Satan’s Sex Island & A Series of Stunning Conicidences

Hello Herstory Heros!

Welcome to Episode 2 of our spooky ladies. This time we dive into witches and poisoners so strap in and strap on for some horrific fun.


Name: Malin Matsdotter

Dates: 1613 – 5 August 1676

What she did: She was a witch!

  • Malin Matsdotter was of Finnish heritage: she herself later stated in court protocol that she originally learned her prayers in the Finnish language.
  • She married Erik Nilsson, who worked within the manufacture of nails and other metal threads, and had two daughters with him: Anna Eriksdotter and Maria Eriksdotter.
  • In 1668, her spouse was executed for having had intercourse with a cow. He had been reported by their eldest daughter Anna, at that time thirteen years old.
  • Malin Matsdotter remarried a man by the name Anders Arendtsson.
  • After her remarriage her daughters left home, stating the frequent arguments between her and her new spouse as a reason.
  • Very little is known about Malin Matsdotter, other than fragments that came forward during her trial, which was also not much.
  • Her profession is unknown: she is mentioned to have been active as a midwife at one occasion, but it is not known whether it was her regular profession.
  • Though described as poor, in 1676, she owned her own house in Mariaberget in Stockholm, and she had been hired as a midwife by Anna Zippel (also accused in the same witch trial).
  • In court protocol she is referred to by the sobriquet “Rumpare Malin”: the meaning of the word “Rumpare” is unknown, but it is similar to the term “Rumpoxe”, which was a contemporary pejorative used for “stupid” people.
  • Background:
    • Since 1668, a national witch hunt raged through Sweden since the accusation of Märet Jonsdotter by Gertrud Svensdotter in Dalarna, resulting in the establishment of witch commissions around the nation and execution of about 280 people, accused of abducting children to the Witches’ Sabbath of Satan in Blockula and often judged upon the testimonies of children.
    • The Swedish witch frenzy reached its peak with the Torsåker witch trials in 1675, and reached the capital of Stockholm the same year with the Gävle-Boy, which lead to a witch trial in the congregation of Katarina Church, known as Katarina witch trial, were children and teenagers of the Katarina parish started to follow the example of the Gävle Boy by pointing out women for abducting them to Satan.
    • By May 1676, the Katarina witch trial had resulted in the execution of the sisters Brita and Anna Zippel, Maria Jönsdotter, Margareta Matsdotter and Anna Persdotter Lärka, as well as death in prison by suicide of Anna Månsdotter and Karin Johansdotter.
  • Trial
    • In July 1676, Malin Matsdotter was reported for witchcraft by her nineteen-year-old daughter Maria Eriksdotter.
    • Her reported stated: “The true daughter of Rumpare Malin, Maria Eriksdotter age nineteen, were called upon and confessed that she had the same night been abducted by Anna Wife of Staffan, who sells beer at Dalarö, to whom she had been lost at games by her mother […] Last Easter Evening her mother allegedly said to her: My daughter do you wish to follow me and we will make people out of you […] thereafter she began to take her every night [to Blockula] […] the second time upon a man. Confessed aside that her mother had always had a bad language, cursed and used ugly words, particularly on great holy days.”
    • Malin Matsdotter were questioned and cautioned to tell the truth. She was thoroughly questioned regarding her religious instruction. When asked to recite the Creed, she answered that she could not bother to read and barely knew the Lord’s Prayer.
    • Her language difficulties attracted attention when she had difficulty reading the prayers the court instructed her to: she did not know them herself, and even had trouble repeating them when they were read to her.[
    • The court noted that she hesitated in a suspicious way when she was to repeat the prayers word by word. The fact that she had trouble reading was in fact uncommon in 17th-century Stockholm: since the Swedish Church Ordinance 1571, every citizen regardless of class or sex was by law required to be able to read, so that they may be able to read the bible.
    • Her daughter Maria Eriksdotter testified that Malin took both her and several children to Satan in Blockula, and that Satan himself, “The Mean One” appeared in court, long, black and with horns, standing by her mother, holding her skirt and whispered in her ear never to confess.
    • Malin was ordered by the court to fall on her knees and pray to be able to confess, and after having obeyed, her daughter stated that she could no longer see the Devil.
    • Ten year old boy Matthias Wallendorph and seven-year-old girl Margreta Jöransdotter both testified to have been abducted by Malin to Blockula, and they supported Maria Eriksdotter in her words that Satan appeared behind Malin, cautioned her not to confess.
    • The married woman Gertrud Mattsdotter testified that Malin had abducted her children to Satan sixteen times and that Malin had abducted them fourteen times while in prison.
    • The children of Gertrud Mattsdotter testified that they had been beaten by Malin to prevent them from testifying, and Gertrud Mattsdotter testified that she had seen her children endure fits while being supernaturally beaten by Malin from prison, and that she would rather see them died than suffer, and that she would kill Malin herself if she was not executed.
    • Malin’s older daughter Anna Eriksdotter supported her sister’s testimony that their mother took them to Satan, but when she stated that she herself had started to abduct children there herself, she was also placed under arrest.
    • The court did ask Maria Eriksdotter if she was trying to have her mother executed in order to inherit her house, but she denied it.
    • Malin Matsdotter was asked by the court to fall upon her knees and repeat a prayer read to her, but she did not succeed before her 11th attempt, which was given great importance by the court.
    • The court was convinced of her guilt by the testimony of her own daughters combined with her lack of religious knowledge and difficulty to read prayers.
    • She commented the testimony of her daughters with the words: “My God, let them go there [Blockula] for ever”, and stated that she did not mind dying when her own daughters testified against her.
    • Her daughters were questioned again and stood by their testimonies, as Malin stood by her denial.
    • Such firm denial was often regarded as a sign that the Devil assisted the witch to withstand interrogations. She accused her daughters of a bad lifestyle and when the court asked her to specify, she answered with such language that her answer was in fact never written down in the court protocols, because they were “to offence to decent ears”.
  • Execution
    • On 16 July 1676, Malin Matsdotter was judged guilty as charged by a unanimous court on the testimonies of her daughters and sentenced to be executed.
    • The method of execution was the subject of debate in the royal witchcraft commission, who was to decide between three alternatives; the first was the customary execution by decapitation followed by public burning of the corpse; the second was that she would be subjected to torture prior to the first alternative; and the third alternative was that she would be executed by being burned alive. The last alternative was given the majority vote.
    • She was to have a bag of gunpowder secured around her neck to make her death quicker. Because the court was convinced of her guilt, her refusal to admit guilt made her position worse on the eyes of the court.
    • The method of execution make the case of Malin unique in Sweden.
    • She was the only person of the almost 300 people executed during the great Swedish witch hunt of 1668–76, to be executed by being burned alive instead of by decapitation followed by public burning of the corpse, which was the normal execution for sorcery in Sweden.
    • Though several crimes formally allowed for public burning as method of execution, this actually meant that the condemned be “executed and burned”, which meant that they were first executed by decapitation or hanging, after which their corpse was publicly burned: the method of burning someone still alive is only known to have been used in the country a very few times before, and the verdict was therefore controversial.
    • Malin was the last person to be executed by burning in the capital of Stockholm, and the second to last to be executed by burning in Sweden.
    • No other person executed for sorcery in Sweden is confirmed to have been burned alive.
    • The method of execution by burning had been debated by the commission in Stockholm previously during the Catharina witch trial of 1675–76 and actually given to an earlier condemned, Anna Lärka, for her refusal to admit guilt, but it was retracted when she finally did so.
    • The execution was performed in the square of Hötorget in Stockholm the 5 August 1676. Malin was to be executed alongside Anna “Annika” Simonsdotter Hack, known as “Tysk-Annika”, who had also been accused and sentenced to death on the testimony of her own children, but was to be executed the normal way by decapitation before burning.
    • The contrast between the behavior of the two have been noted.
      • Anna Simonsdotter was described as full humility and respect and behaved as was expected by her, and though she did not directly say that she was guilty, she behaved as was expected of her, and “by her remorse, by her psalms, and by falling on her knees and lifting her head and her hands to the sky, confirmed the justice in the verdict and the justice in the world”.
      • According to contemporary witnesses, Malin Matsdotter behaved with great dignity and courage during her execution. When asked to take the hand of her daughter to make peace with her before death, she refused. She “did not seem to fear death much, courageously mounting the stake”, and even the official execution protocol noted that she “was very tough”.
      • She spoke calmly with the executioner, “allowing him to fasten her with iron by her hands and feet”, and the bag of gunpowder was placed around her neck to hasten death. She talked back to the priests with her head held high when they pleaded with her to acknowledge her sin, maintaining her innocence.
      • When her daughter cried out and appealed to her to admit her crimes “Malin delivered her daughter in the hands of the Devil and cursed her for eternity”.
      • The execution in itself was described: “But though all of this was both horrifying and pathetic to look upon, those who suffered death did not shed one tear but stood by their standpoint of innocence with an unnatural courage”.
      • Tradition claims that Malin Matsdotter did not scream but died in silence, in accordance with contemporary view that witches felt no pain.
  • Aftermath
    • The execution of Malin did in fact signify the end of the Katarina witch trial in Stockholm and the end of the national 1668–76 witch hunt in Sweden.
    • Some of the judges in the commission, notably Urban Hjärne and Eric Noraeus, begun to express skepticism toward the child witnesses and instigate a different interrogation technique against them by asking them to repeat their testimonies rather than to affirm their already given testimonies.
    • This was particularly brought about since the child witnesses had started to accuse people from the upper classes, such as the Captains wife Margareta Staffansdotter Remmer and Maria Sofia De la Gardie.
    • This resulted in the break down of one witness, Annika Thomsdotter, in court on 11 September 1676, which snowballed into other witnesses to retract their testimonies and blamed the leading witnesses, the Gävle Boy, Lisbeth Carlsdotter and the Myra Maids to have convinced them to perjure themselves.
    • Seventeen child- and teenage witnesses admitted perjury. This efficiently discontinued the Katarina witch trial. The remaining accused, Margareta Staffansdotter Remmer, Karina Ambjörnsdotter and Margareta Matsdotter Dufva, were freed, and the courts instead prosecuted the witnesses for perjury, leading to both executions and physical punishments.
    • The leading perjurers, the Gävle Boy, Lisbeth Carlsdotter and the Myra Maids , were executed on 20 December 1676.
    • Annika Zippel was sentenced to be whipped and died during the punishment.
    • The oldest daughter of Malin Matsdotter, Anna Eriksdotter, was herself under arrest after having stated during her testimony against her mother that she had herself begun to follow her example by abducting children to Satan. Imprisoned, she reported that she heard her mother call for her in her dreams, pinch her and ask her to “come as soon as possible” because she had accused her of witch craft. Anna Eriksdotter was, as the other remaining accused, freed from the charge of witch craft, but sentenced to be whipped for perjury. During the whipping, the crowd attacked the guards performing the whipping by throwing stones.
    • Malin’s younger daughter Maria Eriksdotter was given an official warning to make amends for her sin of perjury.
  • Legacy
    Malin Matsdotter is the role model for the novel Djävulens Märke by Magnus Nordin.
  • She is a central figure in the children’s book series Jakten på Jack by Martin Olczak.


Name: Belle Gunness

Dates: November 1859-????

What she did: Mass Murderess

  • Belle came from humble beginnings. Born in November of 1859 as Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset, Belle grew up in the small poor village of Selbu in Norway.
  • She was the youngest of 8 and her father worked
    as a stonemason.
  • There’s not a lot of information regarding Belle’s early life but there is a story that seems to persist. In 1877, when Belle was around 18 years old, she found herself pregnant. She attended a local country dance where she was attacked by a man and kicked in the abdomen, causing a miscarriage.
  • The man
    who attacked her was from a wealthy family, so naturally, he faced no consequences. Friends noticed that Belle’s personality changed dramatically.
  • However, karma would come for the man as he died shortly after the attack of stomach cancer. In retrospect, there may have been more tangible and dangerous forces at work.
  • Belle took a job on a farm for 3 years to save money for a trip to America. Belle did well working on the farm. Standing at 5’8” and weighing between 180-200 pounds, Belle was a strong, imposing wall of a woman.
  • In 1881, Belle sailed across the Atlantic and began going by her more Americanized name, Belle. Finding work as a servant, Belle eventually found her way to Chicago, IL where she married Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson in 1884.
  • Two years later, the couple opened a candy shop.
  • The two had four children: Caroline, Axel, Myrtle, and Lucy. Caroline and Axel didn’t survive infancy, allegedly dying of acute colitis. This caused severe fevers, nausea, diarrhea, and lower abdominal pain. It wasn’t uncommon for children to die in infancy at the time, but it’s worth noting that the symptoms of acute colitis are the same as different kinds of poisoning.
  • Worth noting is that both children had
    hefty life insurance policies taken out so each of their deaths resulted in a nice pay-day. This must have helped because their candy shop wasn’t doing well. Lucky for Belle, the heavily insured shop mysteriously burned down, resulting in another windfall. Their insured house also burnt down. What an incredible coincidence!
  • At some point between this time and 1900, Belle and Mad adopted a 10-year-old girl named Jennie Olsen. So we have Belle, her husband, Mads, their surviving children Myrtle and Lucy, and their adoptive daughter Jennie.
  • The family became a bit smaller when Mads died on July 30, 1900. He died on the day in which two life insurance policies which Belle had taken out on him
  • The very next day, Belle applied for the payout.
  • Mad had been struggling with illness and Belle had been treating him with quinine powder.
  • A doctor who had visited Mads said he was suffering from strychnine poisoning. However, the family doctor had been treating Mads for an enlarged heart so he basically ignored the first doctor’s conclusion and deemed that it was an enlarged heart which caused his death.
  • Mad’s family didn’t buy it. They demanded that there be an investigation and that his body be exhumed, but there’s no record as to whether or not this happened. If it did, not much came of it. Because the death was not seen as suspicious so an autopsy was not required and Belle collected on both policies which came out to be $8,500 which would be over $200,000 in today’s money.
  • She used the money to buy a farm on the outer edges of La Porte, Indiana where she moved with her three children.
    The farm consisted of a house, acres of land, and a boat and carriage house. Curiously, the boat and carriage houses burned down shortly after Belle moved in.
  • While preparing for the move out to the farm in 1901, Belle met and married widower and farmer, Peter Gunness who was from Indiana. Peter had two daughters of his own.
  • The family of seven again began to dwindle. It started with Peter’s infant daughter. She died while alone in the house with Belle. It’s unknown what caused the infant’s death but, again, the death of an infant was not uncommon so I can imagine no one was asking questions.
  • Peter met his end under bizarre circumstances. Belle had two stories about how Peter died.
    • 1. First, she said he was reaching for his slippers which were next to the kitchen stove. He knocked over a pot of brine which was boiling on the stove which scalded him, to death.
    • 2. Then, Belle claimed that a meat grinder fell from a high shelf, hitting Peter in the head and killing him.
  • At this point no one should be surprised that Peter’s life was insured, allowing Belle to collect $3,000 which is over $85,000 in today’s money.
  • Peter’s death rose suspicions from locals. Peter was an experienced farmer and butcher and the idea that he would have been so clumsy combined with the inconsistencies in Belle’s story didn’t sit right with most.
  • The coroner determined that Peter had in fact been murdered and asked a coroner’s jury to investigate further.
  • Oh, did I mention that Belle’s adopted daughter Jennie straight up said that Belle had killed Peter? The 14-year-old had told her classmate “My mama killed my papa. She hit him with a meat cleaver and he died. Don’t tell a soul.”
  • When Jennie was brought before the coroner’s jury, she denied having said anything. Then Jennie stopped showing up to school. Belle told people she had gone to Lutheran school in Los Angeles or to a ladies finishing school.
  • Belle convinced the coroner that she had nothing to do with Peter’s death and the whole thing just kind of blew over.
  • Peter’s brother took Peter’s surviving daughter to Wisconsin- effectively saving her life. Then, Belle gave birth to a son, presumably Peter’s, named Philip.
  • Belle and her three remaining children continued to live and work on the farm. They were later joined by a man by the name of Ray Lamphere when Belle hired him on as a farm-hand.
  • Now, running a farm by yourself is hard work, so Belle went looking for a new husband. Back in the early 1900s there was no tindr or, so lonely singles would post ads in the newspaper to attract a match.
  • Belle submitted ads in the matrimonial columns of daily newspapers in Chicago and other Midwestern cities. The ad read:
    • “Personal- comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in La Porte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.”
  • So basically, she’s asking for wealthy, eligible men to visit her rural farm CASH IN HAND.
  • One of the men who responded was John Moe who traveled from Elbow Lake, MN with $1,000 in cash to help Belle pay off her mortgage.
  • Belle played it chill and told neighbors that John was her cousin. Within a week, John was missing and he wouldn’t be the last.
  • It’s hard to know exactly how things transpired on Belle’s farm as more and more suitors traveled to and disappeared from her farm. She kept the shutters perpetually closed and was only spotted working at night in the pig pen.
  • George Anderson answered Belle’s ad, traveling from Tarkio, Missouri to Belle’s farm. However, he did not bring any money with him. George and Belle had dinner and when she asked about money to help pay her mortgage, George said he would help financially if they were married. George spent the night on the farm, but awoke in the middle of night to Belle, this wall of a woman, standing over him holding a candle. According to George she had a dark, angry look on her face. When George awoke, Belle fled the room without a word. George caught the first
    train back to Missouri.
  • One suitor, Ole B. Budsberg from Iola Wisconsin was last seen at the La Porte Savings Bank where he mortgaged his land back in Wisconsin, leaving with thousands of dollars in cash.
  • During this period, Belle gained a trunk obsession. She was regularly ordering trunks to be delivered to the farm. The trunk delivery guy would later remark how she would throw two trunks over her shoulders and carry them like they weighed nothing.
  • Before suitors would come to Belle’s farm, they would carry on a correspondence via letters. A letter from Belle to one of her victims, Andrew Helgelien of Aberdeen South Dakota, was found in his home after he had disappeared. It read:
    “To the Dearest Friend in the World: No woman in the world is happier than I am. I know that you are now to come to me and be my own. I can tell from your letters that you are the man I want. It does not take one long to tell when to like a person, and you I like better than anyone in the world, I know. Think how we will enjoy each other’s company. You, the sweetest man in the whole world. We will be all alone with each other. Can you conceive of anything nicer? I think of you constantly. When I hear your name mentioned, and this is when one of the dear children speaks of you, or I hear myself humming it with the words of an old love song, it is beautiful music to my ears. My heart beats in wild rapture for you,
    My Andrew, I love you. Come prepared to stay forever.”
  • This was the last letter Andrew received before he flew to the Indiana farm with his entire savings of $2,900. He and Bell went to the local bank to deposit the money. A few days later, Belle made two bank visits, depositing $500 in one bank and $700 in another. Andrew was nowhere to be found.
  • Earlier I mentioned farm-hand Ray Lamphere. He was the only other adult living on the farm and things had been fine for a while. It’s said that Ray was in love with Belle and would do whatever she asked.
  • Naturally, men flooding the farm to court Belle didn’t sit too well with Ray. On February 3, 1908, Belle fired Ray for consistently throwing fits and making scenes. Then, she went to the local courthouse to tell authorities that Ray was insane and a danger to the public. She was able to convince them to hold a sanity hearing to determine if Ray really was a threatening madman. They determined he was sane and let him go.
  • Then Belle had Ray arrested for trespassing, saying he was a threat to her family.
    That was not the end. Ray began frequenting the farm, threatening Belle and he would talk to neighboring farmers, dropping hints about what had been happening on Belle’s farm. He said “Helgelien (Andrew who I just mentioned) won’t bother me no more. We fixed him for keeps.” Ray couldn’t have been more wrong.
  • Andrew’s brother, Asle, naturally grew concerned because he hadn’t heard from his brother. He started a correspondence with Belle, asking where his brother was. Belle wrote that Andrew wasn’t at his farm and probably went off to Norway.
  • Asle said there was no way he would have done that and that he was going to come looking or his brother in La Porte. Bell, who is getting way too big for her britches, basically challenges Asle to come looking for his brother and offers
    to help, but if she’s going to help, Asle had better compensate her for her efforts. Asle began planning his trip to La Porte.
  • With the threat of Asle’s visit and Ray’s increasingly erratic behavior, Belle could feel the walls closing in. Belle had hired Joe Maxson to replace Ray as a farm-hand in February of 1908, shortly after she had fired Ray. On April 28, 1908, Joe woke up to the smell of smoke. Surprise, surprise, the house was on fire!
  • Joe yelled for Belle and her three children, Myrtle, Lucy, and Philip but got no response. To escape the flames, Joe had to jump out his 2 nd floor bedroom window.
  • He ran into town to get help but by the time it arrived, all that was left was the burned out shell of the house.
  • Her children, Myrtle, Lucy, and Philip were found, still in their beds. A fourth body was found. It was that of an adult woman, but she was curiously missing her head.
  • Belle had been talking to people in town about Ray’s erratic behavior and his explicit threats to burn her house down, so naturally, authorities tracked him down.
  • The first thing Ray did when confronted by authorities was to ask “Did Widow Gunness and the kids get out all right?” but still claimed to have nothing to do with the fire. However, a local boy had witnessed Ray running from the burning house and Ray was arrested for arson and murder.
  • When authorities investigated the house, things only got weirder.
  • The headless woman they found in the house was thought to be Belle until they realized that the body was only 5’3” and 150 pounds. Remember, Belle was almost 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. The woman’s body and the bodies of the three children were all determined to contain lethal doses of strychnine.
  • So if the headless corpse wasn’t Belle, who was it? Ray later confirmed that Belle had lured a young woman from Chicago, promising work as a housekeeper, a few days before the fire.
  • Then Asle came looking for his brother in May, saying he believed Belle had done something to him. The new handyman Joe also mentioned that Belle had asked him to dispense loads of dirt in the area where the hogs were fed to fill in deep depressions in the ground.
  • With this information, authorities returned to the farm and found all of Belle’s suitors. Body upon body was recovered from the pen. The bodies of Asle’s brother, Andrew, and Jennie, Belle’s adoptive daughter who had allegedly gone off to school after talking about Belle murdering Peter, were identified.
  • Belle had upwards of 40 victims and not all of them could be identified. Those who couldn’t be were buried in the pauper’s section of La Porte’s Pine Lake Cemetery. Andrew and Jennie were buried in Patton Cemetery near Peter Gunness. The headless woman was buried as Belle Gunness because they honestly didn’t know what else to do.
  • Ray Lamphere was convicted of arson (but not murder because they couldn’t determine that the headless body was Belle’s) and he later confessed on his death bed that Ray had never killed anyone, but was very much aware of what Belle was doing and helped her dispose of the bodies.
  • Sometimes Belle would drug her victims’ coffee then split his head with a meat chopper. Sometimes she would chloroform her victims in their sleep or poison them with strychnine. Once they were dead, she would take them to the basement and dissect their bodies, using techniques she had learned from her second husband, Peter the butcher. She would then dispose of the bodies in the hog pen, sometimes using quicklime and sometimes feeding the remains to the hogs.
  • Over the years, Belle was spotted in various cities across the U.S. but was never caught.
  • In 1931, over twenty years after Belle Gunness was last seen in La Porte, a woman named Esther Carlson was arrested in Los Angeles. Her crime? Poisoning her husband for the insurance money. Sound familiar?
  • Esther died while awaiting trial, but when showed a picture of the woman, those who knew Belle Gunness were certain it was her.
  • This is a prevailing theory, but the truth is darker. You see, Esther Carlson was a serial killer in her own right. While Belle was wrecking shit in Indiana, Esther married her first husband who died 14 years later after being poisoned. Then she killed another dude and her husband’s friend.
  • There is plenty of documentation that Esther Carlson was kicking around at the same time as Belle Gunness. It’s not like she just mysteriously appeared and had no identity before 1908.
  • Let’s be honest, there’s a long dark history of women poisoning their husbands with poison for insurance money. It’s basically its own crime genre.


  • Belle is recognized as one of the most ruthless murders to have ever stalked the country. .
  • Let’s talk about her victims.
  • There is an ongoing effort to try and identify the victims who were discovered on the farm. In 2007, the headless woman who had been found was exhumed by forensic anthropologists from the University of Indianapolis.
  • They were going to try and compare the DNA from the woman with DNA from a sealed envelope that Belle had sent to one of her victims, but there wasn’t enough DNA to discern anything.
  • They are still working to find living relatives of other potential victims to compare DNA and give them back their names.

Master Master Doctor of the Stars & Stepping to Freud

Hey Everyone,

Here we are with another episode. The start is a real tearjerker. Hope you enjoy!

Name: Kalpana Chawla

Dates: March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003

What She Did: Astronaut

  • Kalpana was born on March 17, 1962 in Karnal India.
  • Kalpana’s father supported the family by selling coffee, candy, soaps, and performing odd jobs.
  • Eventually, he became a self-taught technologist and engineer which allowed him to manufacture tires.
  • Later, he married Kalpana’s mother and added Kalpana to their joint 16-member family.
  • Kalpana’s parents were so busy that they didn’t have a chance to have her
    naming ceremony. In Hinduism the traditional naming ceremony, or, Namkaran, typically takes place 12 days after the baby’s birth.
  • Instead of having a naming ceremony, Kalpana’s family called her by her pet
    name ‘Monto’ at home. When Kalpana’s aunt took her to enroll in preschool, the principal asked for her name. The aunt said they were considering a few different names- Kalpana, Jyotsna, and Sunaina- but hadn’t decided.
  • The principal asked Kalpana which name she liked. Her name means “imagination.”
  • Kalpana grew up fascinated with aircraft and the sky. Her family would sleep on the roof of their home in the summer and Kalpana would stare up at the stars. She would also visit the local flying club near her house to watch the planes with her father, drawing pictures of them after.
  • She even got to ride in a Pushpak and a glider. When planes from the club would fly over her house, she’d wave at them.
  • Growing up, Kalpana rejected a lot of traditional feminine practices; she cut her hair short, didn’t wear makeup, refused to cook or do housework, and was often found wearing pants.
  • In 1976, Kalpana graduated from the Tagore School. She excelled in school and went on to earn her Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh, India.
  • Her family supported her educational pursuits (though her Father needed some
    convincing as this was all very unusual for a woman at the time.) She was the only woman in the Aeronautical Engineering program and became the first woman to graduate with that degree in the college’s history.
  • Kalpana continued her education in the United States, earning her Masters in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas Arlington in 1984.
  • Then she earned her Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1986 and finally her Ph.D in Aerospace Engineering in 1988 from the University of
    Colorado, so she’s rolling in degrees.
  • She also had a Certificated Flight Instructor’s license and her Commercial Pilot’s licenses. While she’s accomplishing all of this, she also married Jean-Pierre Harrison in 1983.
  • The first time Kalpana began imagining the possibility of space travel was when she was 11, when she saw the Viking lander on Mars in the 1980s. This opened up a whole new world for Kalpana and it’s no surprised she began working at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California researching computational fluid dynamics on vertical and short take-off and landing concepts.
  • Then, in 1993, she became Vice President and Research Scientist of Overset Methods, Inc. specializing in simulation of moving multiple body problems. There, she was able to develop and implement efficient techniques to perform aerodynamic optimization, which is basically maximizing the performance of any given body like a wing by changing its shape.
  • In 1991, Kalpana had become a naturalized U.S. citizen and applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps which is basically astronaut school. Becoming an astronaut was obviously an intensive pursuit leaving her no time to visit her family in India. The last time she visited them was in 1991.
  • In 1995, she joined the corps and in 1996 was chosen for her first flight.
  • Kalpana was part of a 6-astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87 with the goal of performing two extra vehicular activities (EVAs) and deploying the SPARTAN-201 experiment which was meant to use telescopes to study the sun.
  • This mission marked a series of firsts:
    • This was the first time that an EVA was performed from the Columbia.
    • It also marked the first EVA conducted by a Japanese astronaut Takao Doi.
    • Finally, with Kalpana acting as a Mission Specialist, she was the first Indian woman in space.
  • The team shot into space on November 19 th , 1997, travelling over 6.5 million miles, orbiting the earth 252 times, and logging over 376 hours and 34 minutes in space.
  • On the mission, Kalpana deployed the Spartan satellite. Unfortunately, it malfunctioned which required two other astronauts to leave the craft on a spacewalk to re-capture the satellite.
  • NASA investigated the
    incident for 5 months and identified that it was an error in the software that caused the issue, not Kalpana.
  • Kalpana also operated Columbia’s robot arm during the mission.
  • The crew returned safely to Earth after their mission on December 5, 1997.
  • In 2001, Kalpana was selected for her second mission to space as a mission specialist for the STS-107, once again aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. This would be its 28 flight.
  • The purpose of the mission was to perform a variety of experiments
  • The mission experienced several delays due scheduling issues and technical difficulties such as finding cracks in the shuttle engine flow liners.
  • Finally, on January 16, 2003, Kalpana boarded Columbia with her 6 crewmembers, Commander Rick D. Husband, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon (who was also the first Israeli astronaut,) Mission Specialist David M. Brown, and Mission Specialist Laurel Blair Salton Clark.
  • As Columbia launched into space, a piece of foam insulation broke from the shuttle’s external tank and hit the left wing of the orbiter. Damage like this had occurred before, but engineers suspected the damage could have been more serious.
  • NASA managers performed a limited investigation, saying that
    the crew couldn’t fix the problem anyway. Engineers made 3 requests for the Department of Defense to conduct imaging of the shuttle in orbit to examine the damage and determine its severity. NASA management wouldn’t honor the requests and actually intervened to stop the Department of Defense from helping.
  • The crew successfully reached space and performed over 80 experiments. While aboard Columbia, Kalpana had a conversation with the Prime Minister of India. He said “We are proud of you. Every single one of us.”
  • When Columbia re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003, the damage from the foam block allowed hot atmospheric gasses to penetrate the damaged wing and destroy its internal structure.
  • The shuttle became unstable and broke apart. The shuttle essentially disintegrated over Texas, killing all 7 crewmembers.
  • The catastrophic reentry was broadcasted all over the world. Kalpana’s remains were identified and she was cremated and scattered at Zion National Park in Utah as per her wishes.
  • Kalpana’s brother, Sanjay, said of her, “To me, my sister is not dead. She is immortal. Isn’t that what a star is? She is a permanent star in the sky. She will always be up there where she belongs.”
  • In 2013, retired NASA official Wayne Hale recalled what the Director of Mission Operations, Jon C. Harpold shared with him before the disaster which Hale said captured the mindset of many at NASA, including the astronauts: “You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the thermal protection system. If it had been damaged, it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight, and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?”


  • Kalpana Chawla has been posthumously awarded:
    • The NASA Space Flight Medal
    • The NASA Distinguished Service Medal
    • The Defense Distinguished Service Medal
    • The Congressional Space Medal of Honor
  • On February 5, just a few days after the Columbia disaster, the Prime Minister of India declared that all Indian meterological satellites, or METSAT, would now be renamed, KALPANA. Many streets, buildings, a scholarship, planetarium, and even an asteroid have been named after Kalpana. There is actually an asteroid named after each member of the Columbia crew.
  • Kalpana Chawla is still considered a national hero in India.

Name: Melanie Klein

Dates: March 30, 1881 – September 22,1960

What She Did: Author and Psychoanalyst

  • Born the fourth and final child of Jewish parents Moriz and Libussa Reizes, Melanie would spend most of her early life in Vienna, Austria.
  • Her childhood was relatively happy, although there was often a lack of affection in her family. In her experience, it was her mother who ran the household and her father who was her intellectual mentor.
  • Two of her siblings died at young ages and this has been said to have contributed to the depression that Klein struggled with her entire life.
  • Her older sister, Sidoine, died at the age of 8 of tuberculosis. Sidoine taught Klein to read and do arithmetic, and the two sisters were very close.
  • Her father, Moriz Reizes, died at the age of 72 when Klein was 18.
  • At the age of twenty-one she married industrial chemist Arthur Klein, Arthur was a friend of her brother and her mother’s second cousin.
  • Melanie and Arthur had three children: Meliita, Hans, and Erich. Melanie suffered from clinical depression, with these pregnancies taking quite a toll on her.
  • This, in conjunction with an unhappy marriage, soon led Melanie to seek out means of treatment.
  • Shortly after her family moved to Budapest in 1910, Melanie began a course of therapy with psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi. It was during their time together that Melanie expressed interest in the study of psychoanalysis.
  • Encouraged by Ferenczi, Melanie began her studies by the simple observations of her own children.
  • Until this point very minimal documentation existed on the topic of psychoanalysis concerning children, and Melanie seized the opportunity by developing her play technique.
  • Comparable to that of free association in adult psychoanalysis, Melanie’s play technique sought to interpret the unconscious meaning behind the play and interaction of children.
  • She began familiarizing herself with Freud’s ‘On Dreams’ in 1914. She then met Freud in Budapest where she published her first paper “The Development of the Child”. She became a member of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society in 1919, but had to leave Hungary due to anti-Semitism.
  • During 1921, in the wake of a dissolving marriage, Melanie moved to Berlin where she joined the Berlin Psycho-Analytic Society under the tutelage of Karl Abraham.
  • Although Abraham supported her pioneering work with children, neither Melanie nor her ideas received much support in Berlin.
  • As a divorced woman whose academic qualifications did not even include a bachelor’s degree, Melanie was a visible iconoclast within a profession dominated by male physicians.
  • Despite this impediment, Melanie’s up and coming work possessed a strong influence on the developing theories and techniques of psychoanalysis, particularly in Great Britain.
  • Klein was one of the first to use traditional psychoanalysis with young children. She was innovative in both her techniques (such as working with children using toys) and her theories on infant development.
  • Klein established a highly influential training program in psychoanalysis.
    • By observing and analyzing the play and interactions of children, Klein built onto the work of Freud’s unconscious mind.
    • Her dive into the unconscious mind of the infant yielded the findings of the early Oedipus complex, as well as the developmental roots of the superego.
  • Klein’s theoretical work incorporates Freud’s belief in the existence of the “death pulsation”, reflecting the fact that all living organisms are inherently drawn toward an inorganic state, and therefore, in an unspecified sense, contain a drive towards death.
  • In psychological terms, Eros (properly, the life pulsation), the postulated sustaining and uniting principle of life, is thereby presumed to have a companion force, Thanatos (death pulsation), which seeks to terminate and disintegrate life.
  • Both Freud and Klein regarded these biomental forces as the foundations of the psyche.
  • These primary unconscious forces, whose mental matrix is the Id, ego and superego.
  • .While Freud’s ideas concerning children mostly came from working with adult patients, Klein was innovative in working directly with children, often as young as two years old. Klein saw children’s play as their primary mode of emotional communication.
  • While observing children play with toys such as dolls, animals, plasticine, pencil and paper, Klein documented their activities and interactions, then attempted to interpret the unconscious meaning behind their play.
  • Following Freud she emphasized the significant role that parental figures played in the child’s fantasy life, and considered that the timing of Freud’s Oedipus complex was incorrect. Contradicting Freud, she concluded that the superego was present from birth.
  • After exploring ultra-aggressive fantasies of hate, envy, and greed in very young and disturbed children, Melanie proposed a model of the human psyche that linked significant oscillations of state, with the postulated Eros or Thanatos pulsations.
  • She named the state of the psyche in which the sustaining principle of life is in domination the depressive position. This is considered by many to be her great contribution to psychoanalytic thought.
  • She later developed her ideas about an earlier developmental psychological state corresponding to the disintegrating tendency of life, which she called the paranoid-schizoid position.
  • Klein’s insistence on regarding aggression as an important force in its own right when analysing children brought her into conflict with Freud’s daughter Anna Freud, who was one of the other prominent child psychotherapists in continental Europe but who moved to London in 1938 where Klein had been working for several years.
  • Many controversies arose from this conflict, and these are often referred to as the controversial discussions. Battles were played out between the two sides, each presenting scientific papers, working out their respective positions and where they differed, during war-time Britain.
  • A compromise was eventually reached whereby three distinct training groups were formed within the British Psychoanalytical Society, with Anna Freud’s influence remaining largely predominant in the US.
  • The school of Kleinianism was the first branch of the proverbial Freudian tree to remain part of the psychoanalytic movement.
  • Klein is known to be one of the primary founders of object relations theory.
    • This theory of psychoanalysis is based on the assumption that all individuals have within them an internalized, and primarily unconscious realm of relationships.
    • These relationships refer not only to the world around the individual, but more specifically to other individuals surrounding the subject. Object relation theory focuses primarily on the interaction individuals have with others, how those interactions are internalized, and how these now internalized object relations affect one’s psychological framework.
    • The term “object” refers to the potential embodiment of fear, desire, envy or other comparable emotions. The object and the subject are separated,[7] allowing for a more simplistic approach to addressing the deprived areas of need when used in the clinical setting.
  • Melanie died of colon cancer on September 22, 1960

Bathing in Hitler’s Tub & The Limbless Wonder

Name: Elizabeth “Lee” Miller

Dates: April 23, 1907 – July 21, 1977

What She Did: Model, photographer, and photojournalist.

  • Lee was born on April 23, 1907, in Poughkeepsie, New York.
  • Theodore always favored Lee, and he often used her as a model for his amateur photography.
  • When she was seven years old, Lee was raped while staying with a family friend in Brooklyn and infected with gonorrhea.
  • She traveled to Europe in 1925, staying in Paris to study art. Miller’s time in Europe was brief, being called back to New York by her father.
  • Upon her return, she enrolled in the Art Students League of New York in New York City.
  • As a 19-year-old art student in New York, Lee was nearly killed when she stepped into oncoming traffic. The man who saved her was none other than Condé Nast, the founder of Vogue.
  • Recognizing her striking beauty, Nast launched her as a Vogue cover girl in 1927 and she quickly became one of New York’s top models.
  • Miller’s look was exactly what Vogue’s then editor-in-chief Edna Woolman Chase was looking for to represent the emerging idea of the “modern girl.”
  • For the next two years she was one of the most sought-after models in New York.
  • A photograph of Miller by Steichen was used to advertise Kotex menstrual pads, without her consent, effectively ending her career as a fashion model. S
  • he was hired by a fashion designer in 1929 to make drawings of fashion details in Renaissance paintings but in time grew tired of this and found photography more efficient.
  • In 1929, Miller traveled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray.
  • Although, at first, he insisted that he did not take students, Miller soon became his model and collaborator (announcing to him, “I’m your new student”), as well as his lover and muse.
  • While she was in Paris, she began her own photographic studio, often taking over Ray’s fashion assignments to enable him to concentrate on his painting. S
  • Together with Ray, she rediscovered the photographic technique of solarisation, through an accident variously described, with one of Miller’s accounts involving a mouse running over her foot, causing her to switch on the light in mid-development.
  • Not only does solarisation fit the Surrealist principle of unconscious accident being integral to art, it evokes the style’s appeal to the irrational or paradoxical in combining polar opposites of positive and negative.
  • Jean Cocteau, who was so mesmerized by Miller’s beauty that he coated her in butter and transformed her into a plaster cast of a classical statue for his film, The Blood of a Poet (1930).
  • During a dispute with Ray, regarding the attribution of their co-produced work, Ray is said to have slashed an image of Miller’s neck with a razor. She left him and went back home.
  • In 1932 she returned to New York City and established a portrait and commercial photography studio with her brother Erik as her darkroom assistant.
    • Clients of the Lee Miller Studio included BBDO, Henry Sell, Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein, Saks Fifth Avenue, I. Magnin and Co., and Jay Thorpe.
  • During 1932 Miller was included in the Modern European Photography exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York and in the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition International Photographers.
  • In 1933, Julien Levy gave Miller the only solo exhibition of her life. Among her portrait clients were the surrealist artist Joseph Cornell, actresses Lilian Harvey and Gertrude Lawrence, and the African-American cast of the Virgil Thomson–Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts (1934).
  • In 1934, Miller abandoned her studio to marry the Egyptian businessman and engineer Aziz Eloui Bey.
    • Although she did not work as a professional photographer during this period, the photographs she took while living in Egypt with Eloui, including Portrait of Space, are regarded as some of her most striking surrealist images.
  • By 1937, Miller had grown bored with her life in Cairo and returned to Paris, where she met the British surrealist painter and curator Roland Penrose.
  • Although not yet divorced, she was living with Penrose when war broke out.
  • Miller embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war photographer for Vogue, documenting the Blitz.
  • She was accredited into the U.S. Army as a war correspondent for Condé Nast Publications from December 1942.
  • She teamed up with the American photographer David E. Scherman, a Life correspondent on many assignments. She traveled to France less than a month after D-Day and recorded the first use of napalm at the siege of St. Malo, as well as the liberation of Paris, the Battle of Alsace, and the horror of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.
  • On April 29, 1945, she walked through the gates of Dachau as it was liberated by American forces. Deeply shocked, she nevertheless photographed the evidence of the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews and other “enemies” of the Third Reich.
    • The pictures are stark and sickening, and have lost none of their emotional impact.
    • A photograph by Scherman of Miller in the bathtub with a shower hose looped in the center behind her head, recollecting a noose, taken at Adolf Hitler’s apartment in Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller–Scherman partnership.
  • During this time, Miller photographed dying children in a Vienna hospital, peasant life in post-war Hungary, corpses of Nazi officers and their families, and finally, the execution of Prime Minister László Bárdossy.
  • After returning to Britain from central Europe, Miller started to suffer from severe episodes of clinical depression and what later became known as Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • She began to drink heavily, and became uncertain about her future.
  • In 1946, she traveled with Penrose to the United States, where she visited Ray in California. After she discovered she was pregnant by Penrose with her only son, she divorced Bey and, on May 3, 1947, married Penrose.
  • Their son, Antony Penrose, was born in September 1947.
  • In 1949, the couple bought Farley Farm House in Chiddingly, East Sussex. During the 1950s and 1960s,
    • Farley Farm became a sort of artistic Mecca for visiting artists such as Picasso, Ray, Henry Moore, Eileen Agar, Jean Dubuffet, Dorothea Tanning, and Max Ernst.
  • While Miller continued to do the occasional photoshoot for Vogue, she soon discarded the darkroom for the kitchen, becoming a gourmet cook.
    • According to her housekeeper Patsy she specialized in “historical food” like roast suckling pig as well as fare such as marshmallows in a cola sauce (especially made to annoy English critic Cyril Connolly who told her Americans could not cook).
  • She also provided photographs for biographies Penrose wrote on Picasso and Antoni Tàpies.
  • Miller was investigated by the British security service MI5 during the 1940s and 1950s, on suspicion of being a Soviet spy
  • In October 1969, Miller was asked in an interview with a New York Times reporter what it was that drew her to photography. Her response was that it was “a matter of getting out on a damn limb and sawing it off behind you.”
  • Anton had a difficult and painful relationship with his mother. “It’s not easy to have a relationship with an alcoholic parent,” he says. “It was challenging, unusual and threatening. She was normally a very generous, sensitive and kind person, but when drunk she would be verbally abusive and cutting. The things she’d say would be really astonishing. She never hit me – she didn’t need to. She could do all the damage with words.”
  • Her drinking took its toll on her looks. Antony thinks she was devastated by the loss of her beauty. “It was desperate for her. There was an almost wilful self-destruction.”
  • In later years, Anton says, Lee recovered to some extent. “She managed to claw her way out of alcoholism and depression, and reinvented herself as a gourmet Surrealist cook.”
    • Guests were served blue spaghetti, green chicken and pink cauliflower breasts – complete with nipples and pink sauce.
  • Thanks in part to Antony’s wife Suzanna, mother and son were eventually reconciled. Lee held her first grandchild, Ami, in her arms a few weeks before dying from cancer.
  • Lee died from cancer at Farley Farm House in 1977, aged 70. She was cremated, and her ashes were spread through her herb garden at Farley.
  • Shortly after Lee’s death, Suzanna discovered the stash of negatives, prints and articles in the attic at Farley Farm, the Penroses’ home near Chiddingly, East Sussex, where Antony still lives.
    • “Until then, I’d seen her as a booze-soaked, hysterical woman, “Anthony says. “I had to re-evaluate my entire attitude to her.”
  • At the time she died, Lee’s work as an artist was nearly forgotten, though Man Ray’s photographs of her continued to be well known. Since the discovery of her photos, Anthony has worked tirelessly to restore her reputation. Much of her work is now archived online, and Anthony has written biographies of both his parents. Exhibitions of Lee’s photos are shown around the world, and he conducts tours around the family home.


  • Anton owns Farley Farm and offers tours of the works of Miller and Penrose. The house is home to the private collections of Miller and Penrose, their own work and some of their favourite pieces of art.
  • Her pictures are accessible at the Lee Miller Archive.
  • In 1985, Penrose published the first biography of Miller, entitled The Lives of Lee Miller.
  • Antone and David Scherman collaborated on the book Lee Miller’s War: Photographer and Correspondent With the Allies in Europe 1944–45, in 1992.
  • In 2005, Miller’s life story was turned into a musical, Six Pictures Of Lee Miller, with music and lyrics by British composer Jason Carr. It was premiered at the Chichester Festival Theatre, West Sussex. Also in 2005, Carolyn Burke’s substantial biography, Lee Miller, A Life, was published.
  • In 2007, Traces of Lee Miller: Echoes from St. Malo, an interactive CD and DVD about Miller’s war photography in St. Malo, was released with the support of Hand Productions and Sussex University.
  • In 2015, an exhibition of Miller’s photographs at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Lee Miller and Picasso, focussed “on the relationship between Lee Miller, Roland Penrose and Pablo Picasso.” In the same year, a work of historical fiction, The Woman in the Photograph by Dana Gynther, was published. It builds its story around Miller’s affair with Ray in Paris circa 1930.
  • In 2019, a work of historical fiction, The Age of Light, by Whitney Scharer, was published. It tells the story of Miller’s life and work, and her relationship with Man Ray.


Name: Sarah Biffen

Dates: October 1784- October 1850)

What She Did: Painter

  • Sarah was born in October 25th , 1784 into a poor farming family in East Quantoxhead, Somerset.
  • She wasborn with no arms and vestigial legs due to a condition known as phocomelia which affects bone and limb development in utero. P
    • Phocomelia can be caused by thalidomide, a drug that was marketed to pregnant women in the 1950s to alleviate morning sickness.
  • Of the thousands of cases that resulted from thalidomide in the 50s, only about 50% survived.
  • Sarah’s condition was so unusual, some villagers were actually scared of her.
  • Without the aid of doctors, support, or the internet, her parents weren’t sure how to care for Sarah and treated her as a fragile, sickly child.
  • However, as children are wont to do, Sarah pushed her boundaries and came up with creative ways to do everyday activities like sewing with her mouth. She literally learned to thread the needle, tie a knot, use scissors, and made her own dresses.
  • Then, she taught herself how to read and write by putting a pen in her mouth. She would carry her pens around using loops she sewed in the shoulders of her dresses.
  • When she was 12 or 14, a traveling showman named Emmanuel Dukes passed through towns and saw Sarah.
  • Emmanuel offered Sarah room, board, and a salary to become an attraction in his traveling sideshow.
  • Sarah joined Emmanuel’s show, billed as The Astonishing Curiosity and The Limbless Wonder. People paid upwards of 2 shillings to watch Sarah sew, write, use scissors, and more.
  • This next part is fuzzy: Some records say that Sarah already knew how to paint while others say Emmanuel, who had a bit of an art background, taught her by putting a paintbrush in her mouth.
  • Either way, Sarah began drawing landscapes, painting miniature portraits on ivory, keeping her pens and paintbrushes in the loops she sewed onto the shoulders of her dress. Her art would sell for 3-10 guineas each (a little over $300 today).
  • Emmanuel, part of a long, proud tradition of predatory talent managers, took
    most of the profits while Sarah earned a meager salary of 5 pounds a year.
  • Word of Sarah and her work began to get around and she became a well-known attraction around fairs and festivals.
  • Emmanuel would bet that if Sarah failed to write, paint, sew, or use scissors with her mouth, he’d pay 1,000 guineas.
  • In 1808, George Douglas, the Earl of Morton attended the St. Bartholomew’s fair. He wanted to see if Sarah was really as good as they said. She painted his portrait and proceeded to blow his mind.
  • He proceeded to tell all of his influential rich friends whose minds were also blown.
  • The Earl sponsored Sarah so she could receive art lessons from William Craig, a painter with the Royal Academy of Arts.
  • She began to receive more prestigious patrons and the Earl encouraged her to strike out on her own.
  • She was anxious to leave Emanuel Duke, he had been managing her for 16 years.
  • Sarah set up shop in Bond Street where she began painting a series of impressive clients, including Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Georges 3 $ 4, and many others. She also served as an official artist in the King of Holland’s court and she even painted Ada Lovelace!
  • Sarah became a huge deal, not just because of her unique medical condition, but because her art was incredible.
  • Her miniature portraits were small and delicate, but also highly detailed. Charles Dickens mentioned her in books and she received an award for her work from the Society of Arts.
  • Sarah met and married William Wright, a banker. However, the marriage didn’t even last a year. He left her with an alimony of 40 pounds a year.
  • Then, things got worse financially when the Earl of Morton died in 1827. Without a noble sponsoring her, Sarah began receiving fewer and fewer commissions and her finances began to dry up.
  • While Queen Victoria, in acknowledgement of her artistic skill, awarded Sarah a Civil List pension, she still had to go back to painting at festivals to make ends meet.
  • Though life was undoubtedly difficult for Sarah, she always kept a positive outward demeanor.
  • Dedicated patrons helped finance Sarah in her final years and it’s through these financial documents that we get more insight into her attitudes in life.
  • She insisted that Emmanuel and her husband had treated her well, though this is doubtful. She seemed determined to maintain a positive attitude and not speak ill of anyone.
  • On October 2nd , 1850 at 66 years old, Sarah Biffen passed away. She is buried in St. James Churchyard in Liverpool England.
  • The epitaph on her grave reads as follows:

“Reader pause. Deposited beneath are the remains of Sarah Biffin, who was born without arms or hands at Quantox Head County of Somerset, 25 th of October, 1784, died at Liverpool, 2 nd October, 1850. Few have passed through the vail of life so much the child of hapless fortune as the deceased; and yet possessor of mental endowments of no ordinary kind. Gifted with singular talents as an Artist, thousands have been gratified with the able productions of her pencil! Whilst versatile conversation and agreeable manners elicited the admiration of all. This tribute to one so universally admired is paid by those who were best acquainted with the character it so briefly portrays. Do any inquire otherwise- the answer is supplied in the solemn admonition of the Apostle- Now no longer the subject of tears, Her conflict and trials are o’er In the presence of God she appears”


  • Sarah’s work is admired by modern day artists, regardless of the obstacles she had to overcome to produce it.
  • Sarah is also a testament to how people are about to adapt and persevere in daunting situations.

A Midnight Frolic & More Than Someone’s Wife

Name: Gertrude Ederle

Birth: October 23, 1905   Death: November 30, 2003

What she did: First Women to Swim the English Channel

  • Gertrude was born in New York City, NY on October 23 rd , 1905 to German immigrants as the third of 6 children.
  • Her father, Henry taught her to swim in New Jersey where the family had a summer cottage.
  • When they returned to New York City in the winter, Gertrude kept practicing, swimming in horse troughs.

The Amateur Hour

  • Well Gertrude took to swimming like a fish to water and she began to train with the Women’s Swimming Association (WSA).
  • Beginning at 12-years-old, Gertrude trained at the WSA’s small indoor pool for $3 a year (about $85 in today’s money) Though the pool was small, the WSA is known for training competitors including Ethelda Bleibtrey, Charlotte Boyle, Helen Wainwright, Aileen Riggin, Elanor Holm, and Esther Williams.
  • The WSA was kind of a big deal at the time. The ‘front crawl’ or freestyle stroke was actually developed there.
  • At the time, swimsuits for women were undergoing a revolution, evolving from the full-body dresses of yore to the more traditional style we know today. Still super conservative and included stockings, but a significant improvement from a drowning-inducing-frock. This made swimming more accessible (AKA possible) for women and competitive swimming saw a surge in popularity.
  • The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) was being pressured to recognize women’s swimming as a legitimate sport. In 1919, WSA director, Charlotte “Eppy” Epstein asked the AAU to “allow swimmers to remove their stockings for competition as long as they quickly put on a robe once they got out of the water.”
  • Famous swim coach L.B. Handley volunteered at the WSA. He was also one of Gertrude’s early coaches. He’s known for developing new and more efficient swimming techniques including the ‘American front crawl’ which involved taking fewer breaths, thus leading to less resistance.
  • Stockings or no, Gertrude became such a skilled swimmer she would have certainly been burned as a witch in years past.
  • The same year she joined the WSA, Gertrude set her first world record in the 880 yard freestyle, making her the youngest world record holder in swimming.
  • Gertrude first realized her skill in long-distance, open water swimming in 1922 when she was only 15-years-old. Gertrude entered the Joseph P. Day Cup, a 3 ½ mile race in New York Bay.
    • Before this race, her longest race had only been 220 yards.
  • She blew everyone’s bloomers off by beating U.S. champion Helen Wainwright and British champ Hilda James, along with 51 other contestants. I couldn’t find what she placed overall though.
  • Gertrude continued leaving everyone in her wake as she set 8 more world records, 7 of which were in ONE YEAR.
  • From 1921-1925, Gertrude held 29 national and world records.
  • In 1924, Gertrude swam in the Summer Olympics in Paris.
  • There she won a gold medal as part of the 4×100 meter freestyle relay. Her
    and her team, comprised of Euphrasia Donnelly, Ethel Lackie, and Mariechen Wehselau, set a new world record of 4:58.8.
  • During the 1924 Summer Olympics, Gertrude also earned two bronze medals in the 100 meter and 400 meter freestyle.
  • That year the American team brought home 99 medals and was met with a ticker-tape parade when they returned home.
  • Gertrude would later say that “her failure to win three golds in the games was the biggest disappointment of her career.”

Professional Time

  • Now, with 3 Olympic medals and dozens of world records under her swim cap, Gertrude was ready to go pro.
  • In 1925 Gertrude swam 22 miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook which took her 7 hours and 11 minutes, a record that would stand for 81 years. However, this was just, as her nephew described a “midnight frolic” and “warm-up” for her crowning moment.
  • The English Channel is a body of water that separates Southern England from Northern France. It varies in width, but most swimmers start at the Straight of Dover which is about 20 miles wide (or if you’re
    99% of the world, 33 km.)
  • Many people had attempted the swim, but only 5 had completed it by this
    time. According to, 10 people have died while trying to complete the swim (starting in 1926.)
  • Creepy side note, while I was reading about the recorded deaths, at least 3 of people were only a few miles away from the coast when they died.
  • Endurance-swimming was really hip at the time and Gertrude was ready for a new challenge. Originally, Gertrude was going to swim with another WSA swimmer, Helen Wainwright, but she had to back out at the last minute due to an injury.
  • Gertrude decided to continue, alone. She trained with swimmer Jabez Wolffe who had attempted the Channel swim 22 times. Wolffe was also kinda sexist and commented that women may not be capable of making the swim.
  • During trainings, Wolffe kept telling Gertrude to slow the fuck down because she would never make it at her quick pace.
  • Apparently, learning from a 22-time failure didn’t work out, because when Gertrude made her first attempt, Wolffe got her disqualified by telling another swimmer to pull her out of the water.
  • Wolffe thought she was drowning, but she was actually resting and Gertrude was pissed. It has understandably been speculated that the bitter, sexist, 22-time failure sabotaged Gertrude.
  • Well, Gertrude began training with Bill Burgess, a swimmer who had successfully completed the Channel swim in 1911.
  • At this time, Gertrude’s peers were attempting the swim themselves. 3 days before Gertrude attempted the Channel again, Clarabelle Barret made an attempt but got lost in some fog and was officially declared missing. She was found, but had to quit only 2 miles from the finish.
  • One year later, on August 6 th , 1926, Gertrude set out from Cape Gris-Nez in France at 7:08 a.m.
  • She was coated in olive oil, lanolin, and Vaseline in an attempt to help keep her warm. She also wore a two piece swimsuit, which is still a controversial move for competitive swimmers today.
  • During her swim in the bitterly cold water, she encountered squalls which left Burgess urging her to get out of the water.
  • Gertrude was like, fuck that, and kept going. Her father and sister were riding in the boat with Burgess and were also like fuck that and urged Gertrude to go on.
  • Apparently, Gertrude’s father had promised to buy her a new roadster if she finished and during her swim, he would call out to remind her and motivate her.
  • To protect her eyes from the salty water, Gertrude used motorcycle goggles that were sealed with paraffin to keep them water-tight.
  • 14 hours and 31 minutes later, 20-year-old Gertrude completed her 35 mile swim at Kingsdown Kent.
  • This made her the 6 th person ever to complete the swim and the 1 st woman to do so! Not only that, she beat the previous record by 2 hours!
  • However, the long exposure to the cold water left Gertrude with hearing loss. I also read that she already had bad hearing due to measles as a kid, but either way the cold water didn’t help.
  • Gertrude’s father had bet Lloyd’s of London that his daughter would succeed and subsequently won $175,000 (Almost 2.5 million in today’s money.)
  • A butcher by trade, Gertrude’s father gave out free frankfurters to his whole neighborhood to celebrate.
  • When Gertrude returned to Manhattan, she received a ticker-tape parade attended by some 2 million people.
  • Gertrude was bombarded with book and movie deals along with marriage proposals. She toured North America, was in a movie, met President Coolidge, had a vaudeville career and more but all of this took its toll and she suffered a nervous breakdown in 1928.
  • In 1933, she also fell down her apartment steps and twisted her spine.
  • One reporter remarked, “Her recover was slow, and undoubtedly more difficult than any swim she ever made.”
  • Gertrude’s hearing loss helped her identify with children with the same disability and she later taught hearing-impaired children to swim.
  • By 1940, she was nearly completely deaf. Gertrude never married and passed away peacefully on November 30th, 2003 at 98 years old.


  • Gertrude was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965
  • Her “midnight-frolic” swim from Battery Park to Sandy Hook was renamed the Ederle Swim in her memory.
  • In Disney’s The Princess and the Frog Gertrude’s name appears in a newspaper article being read by Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff.


Name: Martha Gellhorn

Born: November 8, 1908    Death: February 15, 1998

What she did: War Journalist

  • Martha Gellhorn was born on November 8, 1908, in St. Louis MO. To
    Edna Fischel Gellhorn, and George Gellhorn.
    Her father and maternal grandfather were Jewish, and her maternal
    grandmother came from a Protestant family.
  • Martha’s father was a doctor in St. Louis with progressive notions and her mother, whom she adored, was a suffragist and social reformer who sometimes took her daughter with her to rallies and protests.
  • Her father pulled her out of a convent school when he discovered the
    nuns were teaching female anatomy with a textbook that had its
    pictures covered and transferred the girl to a progressive
    coeducational school of which her mother was a co-founder.
  • Martha began her journalism career when she dropped out of college
    to pursue it in 1927.
  • Her first article was published in the New Republic.
  • She continued writing for The New Republic until she eventually became a crime reporter for a local newspaper in Albany.
  • By 1930, Martha wanted to be a foreign correspondent, to do that she
    went to France for and worked in Paris at the United Press. Martha got
    to Europe by writing a brochure for the Holland American Line in
    return for passage on their ship. 3
  • She also became active in the pacifist movement and later published a book titled ‘What Mad Pursuit’ of her experiences. She later came to regard this novel as embarrassing.
  • She fell in love with her first husband here Bertrand de Jouvenal they married, or at least presented themselves as husband and wife; it was not clear whether he had successfully divorced his previous wife.
  • They returned to St. Louis in 1931. (Divorced in 1933)
  • In 1931 at a party in Washington, DC she had a chance meeting with Harry Hopkins, a social worker. After much talk of their work she eventually joined his team when he started the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
  • This team would travel to parts of the country hit hardest by the Depression and report back. The narrative portrait that was painted from these missives of what Americans were enduring to President Roosevelt.
  • They did not report facts and statistics but lives of people dealing with what was going on. It was real and raw.
  • At 25, Martha was the youngest person on the reporting team, she received travel vouchers and $5 a day to go from town to town.
  • She started in Gaston County, North Carolina, where she interviewed the families of mill workers and sharecroppers. She saw more poverty, syphilis, slow starvation, and utter despair than anything her life up to then could have prepared her for.
  • Her reports are real and moving portraits of people who were struggling beyond all hope and yet too proud to go on relief. She admired their grit, and wept for them, and shook with rage. All of this comes through in the writing, which was being sent by Hopkins, without Martha’s knowledge, to Eleanor Roosevelt as well as FDR.
  • Eleanor encouraged her husband to talk to her and so it came about that Martha was invited to dinner at the White House to share stories of who and what she had seen. This dinner became an open invitation to visit anytime and tell them both more not just from the depression but all the people she would meet.
  • Nearly a year into her post Martha was fired for inciting a riot among unemployed workers in rural Idaho.
  • After the incident Eleanor wrote to say that she was welcome to live at the White House until she could find her feet again. Martha accepted and stayed in what would later be named the Lincoln Bedroom, helping Eleanor answer sheaves of mail from people in dire straits.
  • Martha saw Eleanor as a private hero and began using her time at the White House to use her voice and considerable energy to expose the suffering she had seen and give it a broad, loud platform.
  • The resulting book, thrown off in a few short, burning months, became The Trouble I’ve Seen, a collection of four novellas that was praised far and wide. According to the Saturday Review of Literature, it seemed to be “woven not out of words but out of the tissues of human beings.” It made Martha the literary discovery of 1936.
  • By chance while vacationing in Florida that same year with her family she happened to run into a famous author Earnest Hemmingway.
  • The author was reading his mail and the two practically ran into each other. She was 28 at the time, he was 37. He had recently published some of his major novels so was a huge deal at this time. They began an affair even though he was still married to wife #2 at this point.
  • When he told her he was heading to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, she decided to go too. She came to Madrid in the spring of 1937 carrying a single knapsack and $50, to cover the war for Collier’s Weekly .
  • Like many writers and artists of her generation, including Hemingway, Martha sympathized passionately with the democratically elected socialist government of Spain in its fight against the fascist generals led by Francisco Franco. Her Spanish dispatches, “revealed a gift for unflinching observation and unforced pathos” and “were much better than Hemingway’s” wrote Marc Weingarten in theWashington Post.

“In Barcelona, it was perfect bombing weather,” Gellhorn wrote,
describing Franco’s bombers closing in on Republican territory in
November of 1938, as quoted by Lyman. “The cafes along the Ramblas
were crowded. There was nothing much to drink; a sweet fizzy poison
called orangeade and a horrible liquid supposed to be sherry. There
was, of course, nothing to eat. Everyone was out enjoying the cold
afternoon sunlight. No bombers had come over for at least two hours.”

  • When the Spanish fascists won the war in 1939, she was crushed.
    “Nothing in my life has so affected my thinking as the losing of that
    war,” she wrote in a letter to her friend Hortense Flexner, according to
    Weingarten. “It is, very banally, like the death of all loved things.”
  • Hemingway demanded absolute loyalty, and while history likes to say Hemingway nurtured her as a correspondent however people seem to have forgotten that he also tried very hard to ruin her.
  • After they had been together for six years, the war in Europe escalated and Collier’s sent Martha to London, to cover the aftermath and how the people were responding after the Blitz. Hemingway complained of being abandoned, he sent her a note, “Are you a war correspondent or wife in my bed?” In his mind she could not be both.
  • A little background: His first wife, Hadley Richardson, had no career,
    and Pauline Pfeiffer had very quickly stopped being a journalist for
    Paris Vogue to be Mrs. Hemingway instead.
  • Martha was an utterly different sort of woman who would not be bullied into doing something she didn’t want to do. She also resented the publicity she got just for
    being his wife. “Why should I be a footnote to somebody else’s life?” she bitterly asked in an interview, pointing out that she had written two novels before meeting Hemingway and continued writing for almost a half-century after leaving him.
  • They quarreled, both so intense and passionate that they sometimes frightened each other. Both had terrible tempers. “Ernest and I really are afraid of each other, each one knowing that the other is the most violent person either one knows,”she wrote to Flexner. Martha often felt like relationship were putting on some type of performance and she began to wonder if she were happiest at war.
  • She felt that War made more of her and marriage made less, she hypothesized, that is was because there was no fear in it. In marriage the fear came from within. “Because when you agreed to ‘polish all the edges and keep [your] voices low’ you sometimes lost yourself as you knew yourself, on the inside.”
  • Martha and Hemingway married in November of 1940. Soon after, she took him along to Hong Kong so she could write for Collier’s about the Chinese Army’s retreat from the Japanese invasion.
  • In 1944 Hemingway, livid with Martha for choosing her work yet again, offered his byline to Collier’s, the paper Martha was writing for. At the time, each magazine or newspaper could send only one correspondent to the front, and Collier’s chose the bigger name and went with Hemmingway, leaving Martha with essentially no marriage anymore and no credentials to go report.
  • Martha did find a way back to Europe, it was on a munitions barge loaded with amphibious transport craft and dynamite headed for England.
  • For the D-Day invasion Hemingway had a place on an attack transport, the Dorothea L. Dix, while Martha was to be left on shore to watch as he stole her thunder and byline.
  • Instead, Martha slunk along a dock, the night before D-Day Operation Neptune was in full swing. Some 160,000 Allied troops on nearly 5,000 vessels were being launched across the Channel toward Normandy, in the largest amphibious assault the world had ever seen.
  • She didn’t really have a plan, but when military personnel approached her, she flashed an expired press badge, pointed at the largest thing in view—a white hospital barge with a red cross on its side—and said she was there to interview nurses. She was shocked that she got waved through.
  • Martha boarded, knowing that if anyone happened upon her she would be arrested immediately. She found a restroom with a locking door and set up camp on the floor in one corner. When the barge began to move, after midnight, she had a hip flask that she drank out of while she contemplated everything that could go wrong. She could be captured and expulsed, the barge could be blown up, or she could reach her goal. Which might have been the most terrifying scenario of all.
  • At dawn, hungover, she let herself out of her self-made prison to see the cliffs of Normandy and the mind-boggling spectacle that was D-Day.
  • Thousands of destroyers, battleships, attack vessels, and transport ships comprised the allied sight of the fight that day; the sky was a violent mirror, with airborne divisions raining down thousands of bombs simultaneously.
  • Amid this otherworldly chaos, no longer caring about personal or professional consequences, Martha learned that her hands—any hands—were needed. The vessel by chance was the first hospital ship to arrive at the battle.
  • When a landing craft would pull alongside, she would fetch food and bandages, water and coffee, and did whatever she could to help including some interpretation. When night fell, with a handful of doctors and medics she went ashore on Omaha Beach—not as a journalist but as a stretcher bearer— she flung herself into the icy surf that was brimming with corpses, following just behind the minesweepers to recover the wounded.
  • Martha labored with the team all night, she got blisters on her hands, her mind and heart seared with images of pain and death she would never forget.
  • Later she would learn that every one of the hundreds of credentialed journalists, including her husband, sat poised behind her in the Channel with binoculars, never making it to shore. Hemingway’s story soon still appeared in Collier’s.
  • Hemingway’s story appeared too, with top billing.
  • Even though she had been on the beach, and the truth was written in the sand (so to speak) there were 160,000 men on that beach and one woman. Martha.
  • In 1945, Martha left Hemingway, walking out after an argument at London’s Dorchester Hotel. She was the only one of Hemingway’s wives to leave him, and he never forgave her. “His hatred of her was a terrible thing to see,” one Hemingway biographer noted. She left, she said, because he was jealous and bullying.
  • Martha chose to stay in Europe and became one of the first journalists on hand when the Dachau concentration camp was liberated in April 1945. “Behind the barbed wire and the electric fence,” she wrote of her visit to Dachau, “the skeletons sat in the sun and searched themselves for lice. They have no age and no faces; they all look alike and like nothing you will ever see if you are lucky.”
  • After World War II, Martha adopted a son in Italy and raised him, largely on her own, in Mexico and other countries, where she supported herself with a string of articles for women’s magazines.
  • Later she covered the Six-Day War in the Middle East and the conflicts in Vietnam and Nicaragua. As always she continued to tell the stories of others, those “sufferers of history” whose lives, she believed, were our direct responsibility, she wrote vividly, with fire and indignation, trying to shake the larger world awake to the truth of mutuality: that what affects one affects us all. For beneath the battle statistics lay people.
  • There was no “other” in Martha Gellhorn’s world, and there was no “later.” Only us. Only now.
  • At the age of 81, the United States invasion of Panama. It was only when war came to Bosnia that she gave it a pass.
  • “Too old,” she said. “You have to be nimble for war.”
  • Martha’s war correspondence was collected in The Face of War in 1959. She always focused on ordinary foot soldiers and civilians, ignoring the generals.
  • Her peacetime journalism was collected in The View From the Ground in 1988.
  • Martha sometimes took criticism from political conservatives, who painted her as a left-leaning dilettante whose writing was often didactic and sentimental. Others criticized her vivid journalism as being, stylistically, too much like fiction and her terse fiction as being, stylistically, too much like journalism.
  • But her longevity and the compelling pull of her life story overrode such criticisms. A heroine to generations of young women correspondents for her fight to get equal treatment and a place on the front lines with male colleagues, she was also a romantic figure for her wartime relationship with one of the century’ most famous writers and her subsequent rejection of him.
  • She worked until she couldn’t, went to war until her body couldn’t take the strain, wrote until blindness encroached. Like Hemingway, she chose suicide when things grew too dire.
  • She was 89 and had been given a terminal cancer diagnosis. Only recently had she stopped swimming and snorkeling. Right up to the end she was thinking about traveling—a trip to Egypt, perhaps, to get a long look at the pyramids.

“I want a life with people that is almost explosive in its excitement,” she wrote,“fierce and hard and laughing and loud and gay as all hell let loose.”

  • Just 28 when she took on her first war and in her early 80’s when she took on her last, Martha covered virtually every major conflict of the 20th century.
  • On February 15, 1998, she committed suicide in London apparently by swallowing a cyanide capsule

A Rebel by Nature & A Bilingual Lit Queen/Nazi Resistance Fighter

Sorry that this is a week late! I thought I had set it to auto post. I am the worst! ~Kelley

Name: Ana Mendieta

Birth: November 18, 1948  Death: September 8, 1985

What she did: Cuban American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist who is best known for her “earth-body” artwork.

  • Ana Maria Mendieta was born into a middle-class family in Havana on Nov. 18, 1948.
  • Her father, Ignacio, was a prominent political figure who ran afoul of Fidel Castro’s government; her mother, Raquel, was a chemistry teacher.
  • At age 12, Ana and her 14-year-old sister Raquelin were sent to the United States by their parents to live in Dubuque, Iowa through Operation Peter Pan, a collaborative program run by the US government and the Catholic Charities.
  • Ana and her sister were among 14,000 children who immigrated to America on their own in 1961.
  • Ana’s first two years in the United States consisted of constantly moving from place to place. The sisters were able to stay together during this time due to a power of attorney signed by their parents mandating that they not be separated.
  • When she and her sister were sent to Iowa, they were enrolled in a reform school because the court wanted to avoid sending them to a state institution.
  • When Ana studied English in school, her vocabulary was very limited. In junior high school, she discovered a love for art.
  • In 1966, Ana was reunited with her mother and younger brother; her father joined them in 1979, having spent 18 years in a political prison in Cuba for his involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • Ana was first a French major and art minor, but when she transferred to the University of Iowa, she was inspired by the avant-garde community and the hills of Iowa’s landscape.
  • She earned a BA and MA in painting and an MFA in Intermedia under the instruction of acclaimed artist Hans Breder.
  • In college, Mendieta’s work focused on blood and violence toward women. Her interest in spiritual and religious things and primitive rituals developed during this time.
  • She has said that she faced a great deal of discrimination in art school. After graduate school, Ana moved to New York.


  • Through the course of her career, Ana created work in Cuba, Mexico, Italy, and the United States.
  • Her work was somewhat autobiographical, drawing from her history of being displaced from her natal Cuba, and focused on themes including feminism, violence, life, death, identity, place and belonging.
  • Her works are generally associated with the four basic elements of nature. Ana often focused on a spiritual and physical connection with the Earth. Ana felt that by uniting her body with the earth she could became whole again: “Through my earth/body sculptures, I become one with the earth … I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body. This obsessive act of reasserting my ties with the earth is really the reactivation of primeval beliefs … [in] an omnipresent female force, the after image of being encompassing within the womb, is a manifestation of my thirst for being.”
  • During her lifetime, Mendieta produced over 200 works of art using earth as a sculptural medium.
  • Ana Mendieta’s art was sometimes violent, often unapologetically feminist and usually raw.
  • She incorporated unusual natural materials like blood, dirt, water and fire, and displayed her work through photography, film and live performances.
  • “Nothing that she did ever surprised me,” Mendieta’s sister, Raquelín, told The New York Times in 2016. “She was always very dramatic, even as a child — and liked to push the envelope, to give people a start, to shock them a little bit. It was who she was, and she enjoyed it very much. And she laughed about it sometimes when people got freaked out.”
  • As an immigrant, Mendieta felt a disconnect in the United States. The trauma of being uprooted from her Cuban homeland as a girl would leave her with questions about her identity and make her more conscious of being a woman of color.
  • These questions would echo in her work, which explored themes that pushed ethnic, sexual, moral, religious and political boundaries. She urged viewers to disregard their gender, race or other defining societal factors and instead connect with the humanity they share with others.
  • In 1978, Ana joined the Artists In Residence Inc (A.I.R. Gallery) in New York, which was the first gallery for women to be established in the United States.
  • During that time, Ana was also actively involved in the administration and maintenance of the A.I.R. In an unpublished statement, Ana noted that “It is crucial for me to be a part of all my art works. As a result of my participation, my vision becomes a reality and part of my experiences.”
  • At the same time, after two years of her involvement at A.I.R. she concluded that “American Feminism as it stands is basically a white middle class movement,” and sought to challenge the limits of this perspective through her art. She met her future husband Carl Andre at the gallery when he served on a panel titled, “How has women’s art practices affected male artist social attitudes?”
  • Her resignation in 1982 is attributed, in part, to a dispute instigated by Andre over a collaborative art piece the couple had submitted. In a 2001 journal article, Kat Griefen, director of A.I.R from 2006–2011,[14] wrote, The letter of resignation did not site any reasons for her departure, but a number of fellow A.I.R. artists remember the related events. For a recent benefit Ana and Carl Andre had donated a collaborative piece. As was the policy, all works needed to be delivered by the artist. Edelson recalls that Andre took offense, instigating a disagreement, which, in part, led to Mendieta’s resignation. Even without this incident, according to another member, Pat Lasch, Ana’s association with the now legendary Andre surely played some role in her decision.
  • In 1983, Mendieta was awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. While in residence in Rome, Mendieta began creating art “objects,” including drawings and sculptures. She continued to use natural elements in her work.
  • Silueta Series (1973–1980)
    • The Silueta Series (1973–1980) involved Ana creating female silhouettes in nature—in mud, sand, and grass—with natural materials ranging from leaves and twigs to blood, and making body prints or painting her outline or silhouette onto a wall.
    • When she began her Silueta Series in the 1970s, Ana was one of many artists experimenting with the emerging genres of land art, body art, and performance art. The films and photographs of Siluetas are in connection with the figures surrounding her body.
    • Ana was possibly the first to combine these genres in what she called “earth-body” sculptures. She often used her naked body to explore and connect with the Earth.
    • Ana’s first use of blood to make art dates from 1972, when she performed Untitled (Death of a Chicken), for which she stood naked in front of a white wall holding a freshly decapitated chicken by its feet as its blood spattered her naked body.
    • In a slide series, People Looking at Blood Moffitt (1973), she pours blood and rags on a sidewalk and photographs a seemingly endless stream of people walking by without stopping, until the man next door comes out to clean it up.
    • Mendieta also created the female silhouette using nature as both her canvas and her medium. She used her body to create silhouettes in the grass; she created silhouettes in sand and dirt; she created silhouettes of fire and filmed them burning. Untitled (Ochún) (1981), named for the Santería goddess of waters, once pointed southward from the shore at Key Biscayne, Florida. Ñañigo Burial (1976), with a title taken from the popular name for an Afro-Cuban religious brotherhood, is a floor installation of black candles dripping wax in the outline of the artist’s body.
    • Through these works, which cross the boundaries of performance, film, and photography, Mendieta explored her relationship with a place as well as a larger relationship with mother Earth or the “Great Goddess” figure.
    • Many have interpreted Mendieta’s recurring use of this mother figure, and her own female silhouette, as feminist art. However, because Mendieta’s work explores many ideas including life, death, identity, and place all at once, it cannot be categorized as part of one idea or movement.
    • Claire Raymond argues that the Silueta Series, as a photographic archive, should be read for its photographicity rather than merely as documentation of earthworks.
  • Photo etchings of the Rupestrian Sculptures (1981)
    • As documented in the book Ana Mendieta: A Book of Works, edited by Bonnie Clearwater, before her death, Mendieta was working on a series of photo-etchings of cave sculptures she had created at Escaleras de Jaruco, Jaruco State Park in Havana, Cuba.
    • Her sculptures were entitled Rupestrian Sculptures (1981)—the title refers to living among rocks—and the book of photographic etchings that Ana was created to preserve these sculptures is a testament to the intertextuality of Ana’s work.
    • Clearwater explains how the photographs of Ana’s sculptures were often as important as the piece they were documenting because the nature of Ana’s work was so impermanent. Ana spent as much time and thought on the creation of the photographs as she did on the sculptures themselves.
    • Ana returned to Havana, the place of her birth, for this project, but she was still exploring her sense of displacement and loss, according to Clearwater.
    • The Rupestrian Sculptures that Ana created were also influenced by the Taíno people, “native inhabitants of the pre-Hispanic Antilles,” which Mendieta became fascinated by and studied.
    • Ana had completed five photo-etchings of the Rupestrian Sculptures before she died in 1985. The book Ana Mendieta: A Book of Works, published in 1993, contains both photographs of the sculptures as well as Mendieta’s notes on the project.
  • Body Tracks (1982)
    • Body Tracks (Rastros Corporales) are long, blurry marks that Mendieta’s hands and forearms made as they slid down a large piece of white paper during a performance heightened with pulsing Cuban music.
  • In 1979 Ana presented a solo exhibition of her photographs at A.I.R. Gallery in New York.She also curated and wrote the introductory catalog essay for an exhibition at A.I.R. in 1981 entitled Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States, which featured the work of artists such as Judy Baca, Senga Nengudi, Howardena Pindell, and Zarina.
  • Ana Mendieta died on September 8, 1985, in New York after falling from her 34th-floor apartment in Greenwich Village’s 300 Mercer Street, where she lived with her husband of eight months, minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, who may have pushed her out the window.
  • She fell 33 stories onto the roof of a deli.
  • Just prior to her death, neighbors heard the couple arguing violently. There were no eyewitnesses to the events that led up to Ana’s death.
  • A recording of Andre’s 911 call showed him saying: “My wife is an artist, and I’m an artist, and we had a quarrel about the fact that I was more, eh, exposed to the public than she was. And she went to the bedroom, and I went after her, and she went out the window.”
  • In 1988, Andre was tried and acquitted of her murder. During three years of legal proceedings,Andre’s lawyer described Ana’s death as a possible accident or suicide.
  • The judge found Andre not guilty on grounds of reasonable doubt.
  • The acquittal caused an uproar among feminists in the art world, and continues to remain controversial to this day.
    • In 2010, a symposium called Where Is Ana Mendieta was held at New York University to commemorate the 25th anniversary of her death.
    • In May 2014, the feminist protest group No Wave Performance Task Force staged a protest in front of the Dia Art Foundation’s retrospective on Carl Andre. The group deposited piles of animal blood and guts in front of the establishment, with protesters donning transparent tracksuits with “I Wish Ana Mendieta Was Still Alive” written on them.
    • In March 2015, the No Wave Performance Task Force and a group of feminist poets from New York City traveled to Beacon, New York to protest the Andre retrospective at Dia: Beacon, where they cried loudly in the main gallery, made “siluetas” in the snow on museum grounds, and stained the snow with paprika, sprinkles, and fake blood.
    • In April 2017, protesters at an Andre retrospective handed out cards at the Geffen Contemporary with the statement Carl Andre is at MOCA Geffen. ¿Dónde está Ana Mendieta?” (Where is Ana Mendieta?). This was followed by an open letter to MOCA Director Philippe Vergne protesting the exhibit from the group the Association of Hysteric Curators.


  • In 2009, Ana was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Cintas Foundation.
  • Ana Mendieta’s estate is currently managed by the Galerie Lelong in New York City. The estate is also represented by Alison Jacques Gallery, London.
  • In 2018, The New York Times published a belated obituary for her.
  • The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York hosted Ana’s first survey exhibition in 1987.
  • Since her death, Ana has been recognized with international solo museum retrospectives such as “Ana Mendieta”, Art Institute of Chicago (2011); and “Ana Mendieta in Context: Public and Private Work”, De La Cruz Collection, Miami (2012).[42]In 2004 the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., organized “Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance”, a major retrospective that travelled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, and Miami Art Museum, Florida (2004).
  • Ana’s work features in many major public collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva; and Tate Collection, London.


Name: Mildred Fish Harnack

Birth: September 16, 1902     Death: February 16, 1943)

What she did: Nazi Resistance Fighter

  • Mildred Harnack was born on September 16 th , 1902 in good old Milwaukee, WI as one of four children to German-American parents. She grew up in a large population of German immigrants and grew up learning how to read, write, and speak in both German and English.
  • In 1919 her family briefly moved to Washington, DC but Mildred returned to Wisconsin in 1921 to attend university. She studied English literature and was a skilled writer. Her stories and poems were published in the Wisconsin Literary Magazine and she eventually became an assistant editor for the magazine.
  • In 1925, Mildred earned her Bachelor of Arts in English and then her Masters in English in 1926. While working and studying at the university as a lecturer on German literature, she met German jurist Arvid Harnack and the two were wed.
  • Mildred eventually left her job at the Wisconsin Literary Magazine before moving to Baltimore, Maryland where she taught English at Goucher College.
  • In 1929, Mildred and Arvid moved to Germany where Mildred worked on earning her doctorate at the University of Giessen.
  • Then, in 1930, she moved to Berlin and studied at the University of Berlin where she also worked as a lecturer in English and American literature and as a translator. She also worked with the American Student Association, served as president of the American Women’s club, and was secretary of the Berlin chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
  • In 1932, Mildred was fired from her teaching position for being a foreigner and a woman. I’m assuming this was under the same act that removed Jews from government service.
  • Without a job, she and Arvid joined other academics on a tour of the United States and Soviet Union. Mildred had become interested in Communism and its potential as a solution to poverty.
  • Mildred and Arvid had a lot of connections in Germany and in 1937 they began inviting friends over to chat politics. While most people today can’t get through a single meal without bringing up politics, at the time this was incredibly dangerous as saying anything negative about the government could get you arrested.
  • Then, Germany and the Soviet Union officially went to war. Mildred and Arvid would not stand by.
  • That group of friends coming over for political discussions became the Red Orchestra, a Nazi resistance group helping the Soviet Union. They came up with the name because they named their secret radio transmitters after musical instruments.
  • From 1940 through 1941, the Red Orchestra supported the Soviets by transmitting messages to Soviet fighters that revealed information about the Nazi air force, planned attacks, the number of planes, how much fuel they had, and even where they were storing chemical weapons.
  • Mildred helped send information to the Soviets regarding Operation Barbossa which was the planned Nazi invasion of Russia so the Nazis could repopulate Russia with Germans and use the Russians as slaves. Mildred also worked to recruit others for the resistance, working as a contact between her husband, other members of the Red Orchestra, and Soviet agents.
  • In the midst of all of this, Mildred also managed to earn her doctorate!
  • Unfortunately, because Nazis ruin everything, they discovered who was behind the Red Orchestra. I read in one account that they captured a Soviet spy who revealed their identities and in another the Nazis decoded a message from them.
  • However it happened, Mildred, Arvid, and 116 other members of the Red Orchestra were arrested.
  • In December of 1942, after a four day trial, Mildred and Arvid were found guilty of espionage. Arvid was sentenced to death and hanged on Christmas Eve of the same year.
  • Initially, Mildred was sentenced to 4 or 6 (history) years in a prison camp. However, this was not good enough for Hitler, who refused to endorse her sentence. On his orders, she was retried and sentenced to death.
  • Mildred spend her last month in prison reading, and translating works of poetry.
  • On February 16 th , 1943, at 42 years old, Mildred was beheaded. Her last words were “I have loved Germany so much.”
  • This made Mildred the only American woman executed on Hitler’s orders.
  • After Mildred was executed, her body was turned over to Hermann Stieve, an anatomy professor at Humboldt University who then dissected her to study the effects of stress on the menstrual cycle.
  • This next part I’m quoting straight from Wikipedia because it’s so creepy:
    “After he was through, he gave WHAT WAS LEFT to a friend of hers.”
  • Mildred was buried in Berlin’s Zehlendorf Cemetery, making her the only member of the Red Orchestra whose burial site is known. However, the headstone in Zehlendorf Cemetery bears both her name and Arvid’s.


  • Mildred is celebrated in Wisconsin on her birthday, September 16th.
  • Though she’s not very well known, Mildred is remembered as a hero.
  • There is a book available on Amazon called Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra which looks pretty fucking amazing.

The Cemetery Angel & The Queens of the Sydney Underworld

Who They Were: 

Kate Leigh (1881-1964 107 convictions)

Tilly Devine (1900-1970 204 convictions)

What They Did: The Queens of the Sydney Underworld


  • Kate was born on 10 March 1881 in Dubbo, New South Wales, the eighth child of Roman Catholic parents Timothy Beahan, and his wife Charlotte.
  • Her childhood and teenage years included childhood neglect, time in a girls’ home at age 12, and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy; her daughter Eileen May Beahan was born in 1900.
  • Leigh married James Ernest ‘Jack’ Leigh in 1902. He was an illegal bookmaker and petty criminal.They separated in 1905 when he was imprisoned for assault and robbery.
  • Following his trial, Kate Leigh was convicted of perjury and for being an accomplice to the assault, after being accused of lying under oath to protect her husband; her conviction was overturned on appeal.
  • The marriage broke up soon after the trial, though they were not divorced until 1921.
  • Kate earned income, variously over these years, as a sly-grog trader (speakeasy/saloon owner), drug dealer, and as a madam.
  • She became a major New South Wales (NSW) underworld figure, and has been referred to as its “Queen of the Underworld.”
  • From 1919 to 1955 Leigh’s main enterprise was the highly profitable sly-grog trade, which ensued after the NSW State Parliament legislated for six o’clock closing of drinking establishments.
  • At its peak, Leigh ran at least twentyish bootleg outlets. Although she made much of her fortune from the illegal sale of alcohol, Leigh is reported to have never drunk (or smoked).
  • Leigh also exploited the passage of the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act 1927 in NSW by providing lucrative illicit criminal distribution networks for the high-demand cocaine it criminalised.
  • Leigh derived from her supplies from a corrupt network of doctors, dentists, chemists, and sailors, and amassed considerable wealth from the activity. These activities—the defense of these business turfs—and ongoing feuds with rival organised crime leaders in NSW led Leigh to be a prominent figure in Sydney’s brutal razor gang wars of the 1920s and 1930s.
  • The NSW Police also intensively policed incoming vessels for overseas cocaine suppliers in 1938-9, but it was naval transit restrictions associated with the World War II that led to devastating interruptions of Leigh’s overseas cocaine supply.
  • Leigh was personally involved in violence, though she was never convicted of any such offense. On 27 March 1930, she shot and killed John William “Snowy” Prendergast when he and other gangsters broke into her home at 104 Riley Street, East Sydney. She was not indicted for the killing, or for shooting Joseph McNamara (in the crotch) nearby in Liverpool St, Darlinghurst on 9 December 1931.
  • However, Leigh was imprisoned on drug-related charges. In July 1930, Leigh’s house at 104 Riley Street was raided by a NSW drug squad. Leigh was found in possession of cocaine and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.
  • Through alleged personal connections throughout officialdom, she continued business throughout the 1930s and 40s despite frequent police raids and a mass of minor convictions.
  • She was charged on 107 occasions and was sent to prison on 13 occasions.
  • Appearing in courtrooms with flamboyantly expensive clothes and diamonds, her wealth was legendary.
  • When appearing in court, Kate would wear diamond rings on every finger of both hands. During her heyday, Kate Leigh owned and operated more than thirty different sly grog hotels at different locations in inner Sydney that generated thousands of pounds in profit annually.
  • Leigh was undoubtedly one of Sydney’s wealthiest women during the 1930s and 1940s but the Taxation Department sent her into bankruptcy in 1954 for unpaid income tax and fines dating back to 1942.
  • In 1955 the NSW government changed the law to allow legal hotels to serve alcohol until 10 P.M., an act that virtually killed off the Sydney sly-grog trade and put purveyors such as Leigh out of business. Leigh was famously quoted in the Australian media as stating “The bloom has gone off the grog”.
  • At the time of her death, aged 83, Kate Leigh was living in virtual poverty in a small room above one of her old illegal hotels. was financially dependent on her nephew, William John Beahan,who ran a mixed business in the shop in the downstairs part of the premises.
  • She suffered a severe stroke on 31 January 1964 and was rushed to hospital. She died on 4 February 1964 at St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst, and her funeral was held on 7 February and was attended by over 700 mourners.
  • The press remembered the wily woman not only for her crimes, but for her patriotism and generosity to the poor.


  • Matilda Mary Devine born the daughter of bricklayer Edward Twiss, and Alice Twiss in Camberwell, London.
  • In 1915, she and many English and Australian women were found working as prostitutes and thieves.
  • At 16 she married an Australian serviceman, James (Jim) Edward Devine, on 12 April 1917 at the Sacred Heart Church, Camberwell, London.
  • The couple had one son, born at Camberwell in 1919.
  • Her career in prostitution began when she was a teenager and continued after she was married.
  • She and many English women were usually found soliciting on the wide footpaths on The Strand, at night. From 1915 onwards to 1919, she spent time at Bow Street Court and Lock Up for prostitution, theft and assault.
  • When Jim returned to Australia she followed him back on the bride ship Waimana, arriving in Sydney on 13 January 1920.
  • Her son stayed in London and was brought up by her parents.
  • Both Tilly and Jim Devine rapidly became prominent illegal narcotics dealers, brothel owners and crime gangs members in the Sydney criminal milieu.
  • Devine became infamous in Sydney, initially as a prostitute, then later as a brothel madam and organised crime entrepreneur.
  • The NSW Vagrancy Act 1905 prohibited men from running brothels; it did nothing to stop women with criminal gangs’ support and bribes to the police from running criminal enterprises.
  • Historian Larry Writer has noted that the Devines ran diversified operations. Elite “call girls” were available for politicians, businessmen and overseas guests of significance, while “tenement girls” were young working class women who resorted to casual prostitution to supplement their drug spendings, clothings and meagre earnings during times of Australian criminal and narcotic culture, absence of a comprehensive welfare state and unemployment. Older female prostitutes, “boat girls”, catered to itinerant sailors or working class-men.
  • Devine’s wealth was legendary, although it was all earned from crime. She owned much real estate in Sydney, many luxury cars, looted gold and diamond jewellery and travelled by ship in first class staterooms.
  • Much of her wealth was also used to pay bribes to the police sectors, and fines for her criminal convictions that spanned fifty years. Devine faced numerous court summons and was convicted on 204 occasions during her long criminal career, and served many jail sentences in the New South Wales jail, mainly for prostitution, violent assault, affray and attempted murder. She was known to the police to be of a violent nature and was known to use firearms.
  • Tilly and Jim Devine’s marriage was marred by domestic violence. On 9 January 1931, Jim was charged at Central Police Court with the attempted murder of his wife after a heated argument at their Maroubra home. As Tilly ran out of the house, Jim fired a number of shots at her in a similar way to the murder of George Leonard Gaffney in 1929.
  • Tilly escaped unscathed, the only damage being one of her brand new stilettos – the left one. Their terrified neighbours called the police resulting in Jim being arrested and charged over the incident. He was later acquitted, on 16 January 1931, because Tilly refused to testify.
  • The Devines separated in the early 1940s and were finally divorced in January 1944.[16] Shortly after Tilly separated from Jim, long time criminal associate, Donald Alexander Kenney, known as ‘Skinny Kenney’, became Tilly’s lover and stand-over man.
  • Tilly married for the second time on 19 May 1945 to ex-seaman and returned serviceman Eric John Parsons.
  • She famously shot Parsons in the leg after an argument only months before they were married. This shooting occurred at her other Sydney residence: 191 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst. The house was almost opposite the notorious Tradesman’s Arms Hotel. It was at this hotel that Devine met Eric Parsons.
  • She was arrested by police and charged with the shooting, but was acquitted at trial. They were happily married for 13 years until Eric Parsons died of cancer on 22 November 1958.
  • Tilly was known as one of the most violent criminals in the game. She’d set fire to a policeman, pulled apart a mans face with a razor and generally slashed to ribbons any John who tried to cross her. Bitch. Was. Scary.
  • BUT Tilly wasn’t a one trick stab pony, she was a real renaissance woman (be it of the criminal variety) and along with her talent for violence and brothel running, she moved into the illegal booze trade.
  • Although Devine was one of Sydney’s wealthiest women in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, by 1955, the Taxation Department ordered her to pay more than £20,000 in unpaid income tax and fines sending her close to bankruptcy.
  • In 1953 Devine boasted to the media, “I am a lucky, lucky girl. I have more diamonds than the Queen of England’s stowaways – and better ones too!”
  • She sold off her last brothel in Palmer Street, Darlinghurst in 1968, and died two years later.
  • Devine was famous for flamboyant acts of generosity, and also for her violent feud with criminal vice rival Kate Leigh. Devine was charged by the famous Sydney Detective Frank Farrell on many occasions, and their feud lasted for 30 years.
  • Devine had suffered from chronic bronchitis for 20 years, and died of cancer, aged 70 at the Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney on 24 November 1970.
  • Her funeral service was held at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Darlinghurst.
  • She was cremated at Botany Crematorium, now known as Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, on 26 November 1970 with Catholic rites by her married name, Matilda Mary Parsons.
  • Her funeral service was poorly attended and her death went virtually unnoticed by Sydney’s media and population and it was said that very few people openly mourned her death. The only public eulogy offered to Devine was given by the then police commissioner Norman Allan who said: “She was a villain, but who am I to judge her?”


  • Tilly and Kate physically fought one another on numerous occasions and their respective gangs conducted pitched battles in Eaton Avenue and Kellet Street, King’s Cross in May and August 1929.
  • Katie and Tilly both operated gangs to mange their businesses and, ‘take care’ of their enemies.
  • With both women now firm rivals, their gangs knew their enemy; attacking each other on sight with razors, after Sydney outlawed guns.
  • Huge fights of with gang members cutting the living shit out of each other, became a common sight on Sydney’s streets.
  • This ceaseless violence became known as: The Razor Gang Wars
  • But the violence wasn’t limited to street fights, here are just some of the delightful things Katie and Tilly did to each other:
    • Ransacked each other businesses
    • Set fire to each other’s businesses
    • And ordered rival gang members to be disfigured
    • Oh and there was that one time that there was a shoot out at Tilly’s home and her husband shot Kate’s right hand man in the face.
  • The war didn’t just play out via stabbings, shootings and slashing. Oh no, Kate and Tilly had one HUGE weapon they liked to break out: PR
  • Along with killing and mutalation, Kate and Tilly both used public relations to destroy each other in the papers.
  • Kate loved a good bit of PR,  you see, she wanted to be seen as Sydney’s Jovial mother figure.
    • Sure she might have shot and killed a couple of guys, but really, underneath it all, she was just a nice lady who happened to run a criminal empire.
    • In fact it wasn’t even difficult for Katie to become a beloved (if terrifying) criminal.
  • While Tilly was famously slashing John’s and dousing policemen in petrol, Kate was making a very public show of donating some of her ill gotten gains to poor children and hosting Christmas for the cities poverty stricken families. .
  • In one newspaper write up of Kate’s crimes, the journalist took time to note that the detective followed Kate while she was: ‘Bound on a noble errand of supplying food to unemployed’
  • There was no way that Tilly was letting Kate be the public’s favourite and so she went all in, tearing apart her rivals image.
    • Tilly played up her English roots in a bid to appear classy, often bought up Kate’s childhood abuse (to try and illustrate how rough Kate was) and of course, Tilly was more than happy to trash her rival to any journalist she could find, saying:
    • ‘I’m not like Kate Leigh anyway. I might drink and have a run in with the police now and then, but I don’t take dope, and no one can say I have ruined young girls. Kate Leigh does all this’
  • By the early 1930s police were hot on Tilly and Kate’s heels, after yet another series of armed brawls between their gangs had terrorised Sydney.
  • As the net closed, Tilly fled home to England for several years; Kate wasn’t so lucky.
  • After a series of raids, Kate was arrested, spending the next few years locked up.
  • Obviously Kate being Kate, she owned prison; inviting the wardens wife for tea and pretty much ruling over the inmates.
  • But when she was released Kate found herself in a very different world, with drugs and illegal boozing now completely off Sydney’s streets.
  • Luckily Kate managed to keep her brothel businesses running and therefore could remain one of Sydney’s wealthiest citizens.
  • Tilly also landed on her feet, once more back in Sydney and operating her chain of brothels.
  • Then in the 1940s Kate and Tilly did the impossible, they called a truce.
  • By now all their friends were dead or in jail, both women truly only had each other.
  • That didn’t stop them from continuing to constantly tear each other a new one in the press.



Ruth Coker Burks

Who was she: the Cemetery Angel

Dates: 1958/1959-Present

  • 25-year-old Ruth had been spending a lot of time at the local hospital visiting
    her friend who was fighting cancer. As like every visit before, she passed a door covered in a red bag that read “Don’t Enter. G.R.I.D” or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.
  • The door was never opened, and even the nurses seemed afraid to enter.I t was 1984 in the heat of the AIDS crisis. There was a lot misinformation, fear, and homophobia surrounding this mysterious illness that was rapidly taking the lives of more and more young, otherwise healthy gay men.
  • Ruth, who had a gay cousin, was curious about the illness and the patient on the other side of the red door.
  • She asked the nurses, whom she had gotten to know well over her many visits, about the patient. They warned her, “Don’t you dare go in that room, he’s got the gay disease. We don’t even know what it is. Don’t you go in there.”
  • At the time, no one knew how AIDS spread which is probably why the nurses wouldn’t bring the patient’s food into this room. Ruth could see trays of food piled up outside of the man’s door, trays he was too weak to retrieve, and she could see the nurses drawing straws to see who would have to go in and check on him.
  • Ruth recalled that she wasn’t sure what made her enter the room. Maybe it was her maternal instincts as a young mother or perhaps it was curiosity. Whatever it was, Ruth felt compelled to see the patient everyone was so terrified of.
  • Lying in the bed was a man named Jimmy and it was clear that he was dying. Ruth asked Jimmy if there was anything she could do for him to which Jimmy asked for his mama.
  • Ruth walked to the nurses and asked if they could call Jimmy’s mother. They replied, “That man’s mother’s not coming. He’s been here six weeks. Nobody is coming.” Though they weren’t hopeful, the nurses gave Ruth the mother’s phone number anyway.
  • When Ruth called, Jimmy’s mother first hung up.
  • Well, no one hangs up on Ruth Coker Burks, so she called back and said “If you hang up on me again, I will put your son’s obituary in your hometown newspaper and I will list his cause of death.”
  • This caught the woman’s attention long enough for her to say “I don’t have a son. My son died years ago to me. He was a sinner. I don’t know the man who’s there but when he dies, don’t call me back.”
  • The nurses wouldn’t help. The mother wouldn’t help. So Ruth did the only thing she could. She went back into Jimmy’s room, not knowing what she was going to say.
    But when Ruth took Jimmy’s hand, he looked at her and said, “Oh mama, I knew you’d come.”
  • Ruth recalled that Jimmy started sobbing, but he was so dehydrated, he couldn’t even produce tears. Ruth stayed with Jimmy for 13 hours until he finally passed away.
  • A little more backstory, Ruth was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1958/1958, as Frances Ruth Coker Burks after her grandmother.
  • As a child, Ruth’s mother was under long-term hospitalization for tuberculosis and Ruth’s father acted as her primary caregiver until he died when Ruth was 5.
  • This left Ruth’s mother struggling to be a parent while managing her illness.
  • Ruth credits this too-tragic-for-Disney childhood for giving her an incredible sense of empathy.
  • For generations, members of Ruth’s family had been buried in Files Cemetery, dating all the way back to the 19th century.
  • Ruth’s mother had a plot in the same row as her brother (Ruth’s uncle.) However, the two got into an argument and Ruth’s mother bought 262 grave spaces to ensure the uncle and his extended family couldn’t be buried with the rest of the family. Those 262 plots were left to Ruth and she had no fucking idea what she would ever do with them.
  • It took a lot of phone calls before Ruth was able to find a funeral home that would take Jimmy’s body.
  • When she did finally find one, WHICH WAS 70 MILES AWAY, they said they would only cremate him.
  • They sent Jimmy’s ashes back in a cardboard box. Ruth had to use a cookie jar for an urn. Then, no cemetery would take him.
  • Ruth used one of the 262 plots and buried Jimmy. She couldn’t find anyone who would dig the hole or anyone to say a prayer, so Ruth took her daughter, who was so little she still had a binky, and dug the grave herself and said a prayer.
  • Fearing townspeople would deface the grave, she buried Jimmy on top of her father’s grave.
  • This may have been a one off act of extreme kindness, but word got around about Ruth’s deed. Then the phone calls started.
  • Ruth began getting calls from others suffering from AIDS who needed help. Ruth recalled, “Word got out that there was this kind of wacko woman in Hot Springs who wasn’t afraid. They would tell them, ‘Just go to her. Don’t come to me. Here’s the name and number. Go.’ I was there hospice. Their gay friends were their hospice. There companions were their hospice.”
  • Referrals came in from all over, including rural hospitals all over Arkansas. Ruth began taking patients to appointments, helping them get financial assistance when they could no longer work, helped them get access to medications, and provided general emotional support.
  • Getting medicine for patients was particularly difficult since a lot of pharmacies flat out refused to carry them.
  • When her patients died, they would leave Ruth their unused medications. Ruth would stockpile these meds to use for patients who couldn’t get access.
  • As a Real Estate Agent, Ruth couldn’t finance everything herself and relied on donations. She partnered with drag clubs and gay bars to host fundraisers to raise money.
  • Ruth said, “They would twirl up a drag show on Saturday night and here’d come the money. That’s how we’d buy medicine, that’s how we’d pay rent. If it hadn’t been for the drag queens, I don’t know what we would have done.”
  • When her patients would die, Ruth would always contact their families to try and get them to claim their bodies. They were rarely compassionate and would even pray at her. Yes. AT her. Ruth continued burying her patients on her family’s plot. She would bury them over existing graves, again to discourage vandalism. When her daughter was old enough, she would help Ruth, carrying her own spade while Ruth would carry a post digger.
  • Of the thousands of patients Ruth cared for, she buried just over 40 on her family’s plot. Because of the care and support Ruth provided, her patients lived longer than the national average life expectancy. This caught the attention of a little organization called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who sent researchers to investigate.
  • During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Ruth worked as a consultant for AIDS education!
  • So, what did Ruth get for all of her incredible work?
  • Her community and church shunned her. When she tried to tell people what was happen to try and raise the alarm, they wanted no part of it. One prominent doctor told her, “I will tell you here and now, I will never have an AIDS patient in my office.”
  • Ruth was on the finance committee of her church and asked if she could use one of the Sunday school classrooms at the church for support meetings once a month. The minister of the church said, in front of everyone, “Surely, you aren’t talking about bringing THOSE people into this church are you?”
  • Ruth collected herself and responded like a lady, saying “Oh no. I’m not talking about bringing THOSE people into this church. Instead, I’d like to walk THOSE people across your new $30,000 lawn and into your new $300,000 home, and sit their asses on the $40,000 dollars-worth of new furniture this church just bought you! That’s what I’d like to do with THOSE people.”
  • When the medical community began pulling their heads out of their asses and attitudes towards AIDS began improving, Ruth worked as a fishing guide and funeral director in Florida.
  • In 2012, Ruth suffered a stroke and had to relearn how to talk, read, feed herself, write, and do other everyday task. She believes the stress from caring for AIDS patients contributed to the stroke.
  • She moved back to Arkansas to be closer to her family and also because her health insurance dropped her after her stroke.
  • In 2013, she heard about 3 foster children who were removed from school due to rumors that one might be HIV-positive. I imagine, like an old grizzled cop, she said “I’m getting too old for this shit,” before she began advocating for the kids. She appeared on TV as an HIV advocate.
  • Naturally, her community shunned her and the funeral home she had worked at, who basically said when you’re better you can come back, rescinded their job offer. Also, no one else would hire her.
  • A local Walmart allegedly destroyed a chair she had sat in there after finding out about her HIV advocacy. Remember. This is 2013.
  • In 2016, Ruth along with other HIV/AIDS advocates were honored at New York City’s Pride Week by non-profit group Broadway Sings for Pride.
  • Ruth is also working on creating a memorial for AIDS victims and turning Files Cemetery into a garden.


  • Jimmy’s story and those of the thousands of people Ruth helped were not unique. Imagine all of the people who didn’t have anyone to claim and bury their bodies.
  • While HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence like it used to be, it’s still a serious issue that affects a disproportionate number of black, Latino, and LGBTQ+ community members.
  • According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 15% of people infected with HIV don’t know it which is why it’s important to use protection and get tested every 3 months if you’re sexually active.
  • As for Ruth? She’s currently working on a memoir of her story and working on a film based on her life and book.
  • In 2017, Rose McGowan wrote and directed an unauthorized short film titled Ruth inspired by Ruth’s work.
  • She still cares for the graves in her family plot and advocates for better care for HIV/AIDS patients. The cemetery has become a pilgrimage site for those affected by the crisis and a place for them to remember those they lost and say good bye, even if they aren’t buried there.

The Phoneix of Mexico & The Bike Babe

Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana AKA Sor Juana

Born: November 12th, 1651   Died: April 17th, 1695

What she did: Writer and Nun


  • Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana was born in on November 12th, 1651, and died on April 17th, 1695.
  • Juana was the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish father and Creole mother. Her maternal grandfather owned property in Amecameca and Juana spent her early years living with her mother on his estate, Panoaya.
  • Juana was a voracious reader in her early childhood, hiding in the hacienda chapel to read her grandfather’s books from the adjoining library. She composed her first poem when she was eight years old.
  • By adolescence, she had comprehensively studied Greek logic, and was teaching Latin to young children at age 13. She also learned Nahuatl, an Aztec language spoken in Central Mexico, and wrote some short poems in that language.
  • At age eight, after her grandfather’s death, she was sent to live in Mexico City with her maternal aunt. She longed to disguise herself as a male so that she could go to University but was not given permission by her family to do so.
  • She continued to study privately, and she was a harsh teacher she cut her hair thinking it should not be adorned with hair and naked of learning.
  • At 16, was presented to the court of the Viceroy Marquis de Mancera, where she was admitted to the service of the Viceroy’s wife where she entertained nobles with her poetry and works of theater.
  • When she was 17, the Viceroy assembled 40 members of the University of Mexico to test her intelligence. They questioned her on topics such as mathematics, philosophy, literature and history, and were astounded by her genius. “In the manner that a royal galleon might fend off the attacks of a few canoes” words of the vicroy after the event.
  • Her reputation and her apparent beauty attracted a great deal of attention. She received many marriage proposals. However, Juana had no desire to marry, wishing instead to continue her studies; the only logical path for her therefore was to become a nun. 
  • Juana entered the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites of St. Joseph, where she remained for a few months. In 1669, at age 21, she entered Convent of the Order of St. Jérôme, where she would remain until her death.
  • She lived very comfortably. Her ‘cell’ was an apartment maintained by servants and slaves and she had a huge personal library containing various scientific, mathematical and musical instruments, works of art and some 4,000 books.
  • Sor Juana’s enduring importance and literary success are partly attributable to her mastery of the full range of poetic forms and themes of the Spanish Golden Age, and her writings display inventiveness, wit and a wide range of knowledge. Juana employed all of the poetic models of her day, including sonnets and romances, and she drew on wide-ranging—secular and nonsecular—sources. Unlimited by genre, she also wrote dramatic, comedic and scholarly works—especially unusual for a nun.
  • Sor Juana’s most important plays include brave and clever women, and her famous poem, “Hombres necios” (“Foolish Men”), accuses men of behaving illogically by criticizing women. Her most significant poem, “Primero sueño” (“First Dream”), published in 1692, is at once personal and universal, recounting the soul’s quest for knowledge.
  • Though accomplished, Sor Juana was the subject of criticism by her political and religious superiors.
  • When her friends, the Viceroy Marqués de la Laguna and his wife María Luisa, Condesa de Paredes (the subject of a series of Sor Juana’s love poems), left Mexico in 1688, Sor Juana lost much of the protection to which she had become accustomed.
  • In 1690, a letter of hers which criticized a well-known Jesuit sermon was published without her permission by a person using the pseudonym “Sor Filotea de la Cruz.” Included with her letter was a letter from “Sor Filotea” (actually the Bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz) criticizing Juana for her comments and for the lack of serious religious content in her poems.
  • Sor Juana’s reply, the now famous Respuesta a Sor Filotea has been hailed as the first feminist manifesto, defending, among other things, a woman’s right to education. Her fervent reply was the subject of further criticism, and the Archbishop and others demanded that she give up any non-religious books or studies.
  • She continued to publish non-religious works, among them several villancicos (a poetic form typically sung as a religious devotional for feasts of the Catholic calendar) about St. Catharine of Alexandria, written in a more feminist than religious tone.
  • Controversy surrounding Sor Juana’s writing and pressure from those around her, including her confessor Núñez de Miranda, resulted in Sor Juana’s forced abjuration. During this time, Sor Juana was required to sell her books as well as all musical and scientific instruments. Sor Juana responded by devoting herself to a rigorous penance, giving up all studies and writing.
  • Within her own lifetime, two out of three volumes of her ‘Complete Works’ were published, and she even edited some of the later editions. 
  • Within the posthumous volume we find her first biography, which was based largely on her own words.
  • This version of her life draws upon the well-established narrative of the saint who, having gained fame and fortune, decides to give it all up for a life devoted to Christ. Her Profession of the Faith, which has been used as evidence of her ‘persecution’, was actually rather tame in comparison with those of other nuns, and was key in demonstrating her pious transformation and presenting herself as worthy of sainthood. 
  • Sor Juana’s agency in deciding how her work and own image were presented should not be underestimated. Few writers in the early modern period – men or women – had this privilege, and many did not live to see their writings in print.
  • It seems that we must believe that a woman suffered in order for her to be awarded iconic status. But this means we are killing heroines rather than celebrating their achievements. Why is the only acceptable strong female character one who has been recast as a victim?
  • In 1695, a plague hit the convent. On April 17, after tending to her fellow sisters, Juana died from the disease around the age of forty-four.


  • There is a vast amount of scholarly literature on Sor Juana in Spanish, English, French, and German.
  • An important translation to English of a work by Juana Inés de la Cruz for a wide readership is published as Poems, Protest, and a Dream in a 1997 Penguin Classics paperback, which includes her response to authorities censuring her.
  • Arguably the most important book devoted to Sor Juana, written by Nobel Prize laureate Octavio Paz in Spanish and translated to English in 1989 as Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden).
  • Tarsicio Herrera Zapién, a classical scholar, has devoted much of his career to the study of Sor Juana’s works.
  • Dr. Theresa Yugar who has written her Master’s and Doctoral theses on Sor Juana, wrote Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Feminist Reconstruction of Biography and Text, a book in which she discusses the life of Sor Juana through a feminist lense and analyzes Sor Juana’s La Respuesta and El Sueño.
  • Sor Juana is pictured on the obverse of the 200 pesos bill issued by the Banco de Mexico and also appears on the 1000 pesos coin minted by Mexico between 1988 and 1992


Annie Kopchovsky  AKA Annie Londonderry

Born: 1870   Died: 1947

What she did: Biker Babe


  • Annie was born in Latvia in 1870 the third of 5 children.
  • In 1875, when she was 5-years-old, she immigrated to the United States with her
  • They settled in a tenement in Boston.
  • In 1887, when Annie was 17, her father died, followed by her mother two months later. Annie’s oldest sister was already off and married, so she and her 20-year-old brother Bennet were left to take care of their two younger siblings, Jacob (10) and Rosa (8).
  • The following year, Annie married peddler, Simon Kopchovsky and they lived in the same tenement she grew up in, along with Bennet and her two younger siblings. Together, Annie and Simon had three children, Bertha, Libbie, and Simon Jr.
  • Annie made a living selling advertising space for Boston newspapers while her husband studied the Torah and peddled his wares.
  • Now, during this time, bicycling was all the rage.Bicycles offered simple,
    independent transportation, to women in particular. They also helped pave the way for less restrictive clothing for women.
  • Naturally this made bikes very controversial.
    • One writer for the Sunday Herald in 1891 wrote, “I think the most vicious thing I ever saw in all my life is a woman on a bicycle-and Washington is full of them. I had thought that cigarette smoking was the worst thing a
      woman could do but I have changed my mind.”
  • This and more is what made the bet between two Boston men so crazy. In 1894, the two men bet $20,000 that no woman could travel around the world on a bicycle in 15 months.
    • Or maybe the bet was made up by Annie. No one  knows.
    • No one knows why Annie was chosen. Actually, the fact she was a Jewish woman in a time where anti- Semitism ran rampant, makes it even crazier that she was chosen.
    • Also, she had never ridden a bike until a few days before the journey.
    • Whatever the reason, on June 25th  1894, the married mother of three set out on her journey from Boston amidst a crowd of 500 onlookers.
    • Clad in a dress, she rode a 42lb ladies Columbia bicycle that had a placard attached advertising Londonderry Lithia Spring Water for which she was paid $100. As part of the ad deal, Annie also agreed to go by Annie Londonderry. This also concealed her identity as a Jew (anti-Semitism sucks.)
  • In September Annie arrived in Chicago, covering about 985 miles. During her journey, she lost over 20 pounds.
  • Understandably, Annie almost called it quits on the whole thing. This may have been partly due to the fact she was riding a bike that weighed almost 50lb.
  • She traded that behemoth in for a men’s bike that weighed half as much. The bike was sponsored by a local company called Sterling Cycle Works and had no brakes.
  • She also switched to wearing bloomers and later a men’s riding suit.
  • Knowing that she wouldn’t make it to San Francisco before winter and the inevitable Midwestern snowfall, Annie left Chicago and began riding back East to New York.
  • She only had 11 months left to complete her journey.
  • When she arrived in New York in November, she hopped on a ship that took her to France. As soon as she landed on France’s north coast, Annie faced her next obstacle; bureaucracy! Customs confiscated her bike and money while the French newspapers wrote about how ugly she was.
  • After everything was finally sorted out, she set out from Paris to Marseille.
  • Annie paid her way riding through France by selling advertisement space on her bike and clothing. She would also give lectures about her trip, embellishing the story with tales of near-death experiences and accidents.
  • Though she played up the drama of her travels, she did encounter hardships. She suffered an injury to her foot which required her to prop her injured foot up on the handlebars as she rode.
  • Now, Annie was a savvy traveler. The bet didn’t specify how many miles she had to bike. She just had to get around the world. So, she hopped a ship from France to East Asia! She did stop in Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Singapore before riding through China.
  • By March, she was in Japan. She took a ship from Japan to San Francisco on March 23.
  • Annie then spent the next 6 months biking across the United States, witnessing the majesty of the southwest, the grand Great Plains, and the bean fields of the Midwest.
  • At one point, she was almost killed by a runaway horse and wagon and broke her wrist when she crashed into a bunch of pigs.
  • While traveling across America, Annie would engage in local bike races and proved to be an accomplished cyclist, despite having never ridden one until shortly before she started on her journey.
  • Finally, on September 12, 1895, Annie arrived in Chicago, completing her journey in just under 15 months. She collected her $10,000 prize and went back to Boston.
  • Annie later wrote of her exploits in the New York World and the headline read,
  • After her historic bike trip, Annie leveraged her celebrity by selling photos, autographs, and other souvenirs. She continued to write of her adventures and moved with her family to New York City.
  • In one article, Annie described herself as the “New Woman.” This was a feminist idea that arose in the late nineteenth century describing a woman seeking radical change and who pushed the envelope of what it meant to be a woman in a male-dominated society.
  • Annie wrote, “I am a journalist and a ‘new woman,’ if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.”


  • Unfortunately, Annie would never know the same level of fame that her historic ride brought her. She died in relative obscurity in 1947.
  • In 2007, her great-nephew, Peter, published Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride.
  • A bicycle-themed performance called SPIN featured a song called “The Ballad of Annie Londonderry” about her.
  • There was a 26 documentary called The New Woman- Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky which premiered in February, 2013 and won the award for Best Documentary at the DC Independent Film Festival.
  • Annie truly embodied the spirit of the ‘new woman.’ She was a bike riding, pants wearing, independent, self-sufficient, badass.
  • So remember, everyone; be a rebel. Ride a bike.

A Spieling, Slicing Singer & the Titty Defense


Peggy Lee

Born: May 26, 1920    Died: January 21, 2002

What she did: Actress


  • Peggy was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota.
  • After her mother died when Peggy was four, her father married Minnie Schaumberg Wiese but later left home, leaving Peggy’s care entrusted to a stepmother who physically abused her.
  • Norma headed for Hollywood after she graduated from high school in 1938.
  • With her she took $18 in cash and a railroad pass she had borrowed from her father.
  • Although she got a brief singing engagement at the Jade Room, a supper club on Hollywood Boulevard, she made little impression on the film capital, and she was reduced to working as a waitress and as a carnival spieler at a Balboa midway.
  • Deciding to try her luck nearer home, she found work as a singer over radio station WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota.
  • The manager, Ken Kennedy, christened her Peggy Lee.
  • Her prospects for a career brightened when she moved to Minneapolis, where she sang in the dining room of the Radisson Hotel, appeared on a Standard Oil radio show, and sang with Sev Olsen’s band.
  • Peggy broke into the big time when she became a vocalist with Will Osborne’s band, but three months after she joined the group it broke up in St. Louis, and she got a ride to California with the manager.
  • It was at the Doll House in Palm Springs, California that Peggy Lee first developed the soft and “cool” style that has become her trademark.
  • Unable to shout above the clamor of the Doll House audience, Miss Lee tried to snare its attention by lowering her voice.

Quote from Discovering Great Singers of Classic Pop

Chatting and laughing, clanging cocktail glasses, the audience was louder than the band, as Peggy Lee tells the story. It was 1941, at a swanky club in Palm Springs called the Doll House. Lee was booming out her songs, but nobody seemed to care much about hearing her. Then she got a thought. For the next tune, whose title she doesn’t recall, she lowered her voice to a hush, quieter than the crowd, and the audience started settling down and listening. Apocryphal or not, the story nicely dramatizes the inverted emotional physics at work in Peggy Lee’s singing. By reducing how much she gives her listeners, she increases how much they get.

  • There, she was noticed by bandleader Benny Goodman.
  • According to Peggy, “Benny’s then-fiancée, Lady Alice Duckworth, came into The Buttery, and she was very impressed. So the next evening she brought Benny in, because they were looking for a replacement for Helen Forrest. And although I didn’t know, I was it. He was looking at me strangely, I thought, but it was just his preoccupied way of looking. I thought that he didn’t like me at first, but it just was that he was preoccupied with what he was hearing.”
  • She joined his band in 1941 when the band was at the height of its popularity, and for over two years she toured the United States with the most famous swing outfit of the day, playing hotel engagements, college proms, theater dates, and radio programs.
  • Much of her present success Miss Lee credits to her apprenticeship with the big bands. “I learned more about music from the men I worked with in bands than I’ve learned anywhere else,” she has said. “They taught me discipline and the value of rehearsing and even how to train…. Band singing taught us the importance of interplay with musicians. And we had to work close to the arrangement.”
  • In 1942 Lee had her first No. 1 hit, “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place”, followed by “Why Don’t You Do Right?” which sold over 1 million copies and made her famous. She sang with Goodman’s orchestra in two 1943 films, Stage Door Canteen and The Powers Girl.
  • In March 1943 Lee married Dave Barbour, a guitarist in Goodman’s band. Peggy said, “David joined Benny’s band and there was a ruling that no one should fraternize with the girl singer. But I fell in love with David the first time I heard him play, and so I married him. Benny then fired David, so I quit, too. Benny and I made up, although David didn’t play with him anymore. Benny stuck to his rule. I think that’s not too bad a rule, but you can’t help falling in love with somebody.”
  • When she left the band that spring, her intention was to quit the footlights altogether and become Mrs. Barbour, fulltime housewife. In March, 1943, Peggy Lee married Dave Barbour, the guitarist in Goodman’s band; shortly thereafter she left the band. After her daughter, Nicki, was born in 1944, Peggy Lee and her husband worked successfully on the West Coast.
  • It’s to Mr. Barbour’s credit that he refused to let his wife’s singing and composing talent lay dormant for too long. “I fell in love with David Barbour,” she recalled. “But ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’ was such a giant hit that I kept getting offers and kept turning them down. And at that time it was a lot of money. But it really didn’t matter to me at all. I was very happy. All I wanted was to have a family and cling to the children. Well, they kept talking to me and finally David joined them and said ‘You really have too much talent to stay at home and someday you might regret it.'”
  • She drifted back to songwriting and occasional recording sessions for the Capitol Records in 1947, for whom she recorded a long string of hits, many of them with lyrics and music by Lee and Barbour, including “I Don’t Know Enough About You” (1946) and “It’s a Good Day” (1947).
  • With the release of the US No. 1-selling record of 1948, “Mañana”, her “retirement” was over. In 1948, Lee’s work was part of Capitol’s library of electrical transcriptions for radio stations. An ad for Capitol Transcriptions in a trade magazine noted that the transcriptions included “special voice introductions by Peggy.”
  • Following the completion of her contract run with Capitol, Miss Lee was signed by Decca Records where she remained for six years, returning to Capitol in 1958. At Decca, Lee produced the quintessential recording of “Fever,” perhaps her greatest recording and certainly one of the top songs to emerge from the early Rock N’ Roll period.
  • In 1948 Lee joined vocalists Perry Como and Jo Stafford as a host of the NBC Radio musical program The Chesterfield Supper Club. She was a regular on The Jimmy Durante Show and appeared frequently on Bing Crosby’s radio shows during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
  • In 1950 Peggy Lee made a first, brief screen appearance in Paramount’s “Mr. Music,” starring Bing Crosby.
  • In 1953 she played a featured role opposite Danny Thomas in Warner Brothers’ remake of the early Al Jolson talking picture, “The Jazz Singer,” and won praise from a critic of the “New York Wolrd-Telegram and Sun” for “a very promising start on a movie career” as “a poised and ingratiating ingenue.”
  • Her performance as a despondent and alcoholic blues singer in “Pete Kelly’s Blues” (Warner Brothers, 1955) won her a nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In the 1955 balloting conducted by the Council of Motion Picture Organizations, moviegoers voted her the “Audie” statuette.
  • She provided speaking and singing voices for several characters in the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp (1955), playing the human “Darling” (in the first part of the movie), the dog “Peg”, and the two Siamese cats, “Si and Am”.
  • In 1957, she guest starred on the short-lived variety program The Guy Mitchell Show.
  • Critic George Hoefer of “Downbeat” magazine has called her “the greatest white female jazz singer since Mildred Bailey,” and Leonard Feather in “The Encyclopedia of Jazz” (Horizon, 1960) has described her as “one of the most sensitive and jazz-oriented singers in the pop field.”
  • Miss Lee won the 1946 polls as best female vocalist of both “Metronome” and “Downbeat” magazines, wisely read by jazz buffs, and the 1950 citation as “the nation’s most popular female vocalist” from “Billboard,” a trade magazine of show business.
  • A frequent performer on television, she sang on the Thursday night “Revlon Revues” over CBS-TV in 1960, and has appeared on televised musical variety shows starring Perry Como, George Gobel, Steve Allen and Bing Crosby. In March, 1960 she undertook a straight dramatic role in “So Deadly, So Evil” on the “General Electric Theater” over CBS-TV.
  • In September, 1962 Miss Lee reached what she has called the “high spot” in her career when she was selected to appear in Philharmonic Hall of New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, an auditorium usually available to those whom the management considers as serious artists. Miss Lee conducted research for, and wrote a program called “The Jazz Tree,” tracing the origins and development of jazz as a native American art form. Originally scheduled for December, 1962, the booking was postponed until March, 1963 to give Miss Lee enough time to perfect her presentation.
  • This perfectionist approach to her programs is typical of Miss Lee. She polishes and perfects every aspect of her performances – her special coiffures, her costly wardrobe, her lighting, her entrances and exits, and her musical arrangements.
  • Her perfectionism may derive from her association with Benny Goodman, who always demanded the best from his performers. Rejecting the improvisatory approach of most jazz singers, Peggy Lee plans every detail of her delivery in advance, including even the movement of her hands.
  • This perfectionism has taken its toll of her health on several occasions; she was hospitalized with virus pneumonia in July, 1958 and in November, 1961. As a result, Miss Lee has reduced her schedule, confining her public appearances to six weeks each year in New York and Las Vegas, a few television shows, and one or two charity benefits.
  • Lee continued to perform into the 1990s, sometimes confined to a wheelchair.After years of poor health, she died of complications from diabetes and a heart attack on January 21, 2002, at the age of 81.
  • She was cremated and her ashes were buried in a bench-style monument in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.


Phryne (FRY-KNEE)

Born: 371 BC    Died: January 21, 2002

What she did: Courtesan


  • Phryne, was born as Mnesarete  in around 371 BC in Ancient Greece.
  • Though her birth name was Mnesarete, she was given the nickname Phryne which meant “toad.” This was partly because she had a yellowish complexion and because this was a common nickname given to sex workers.
  • Phryne was a sex worker living in Athens. She was known for her exceptional
    beauty, so she was very successful.
  • Her beauty inspired a variety of artworks. During a festivals, Phryne would let down her hair and walk naked into the ocean. It is said that this inspired the artist Apelles to create his painting Aphrodite Anadyomene which depicts the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite’s birth from the sea.
  • Sculptor Praxilteles used her as the model for his sculpture Aphrodite of Knidos
  • ONE THE FIRST NUDE STATUES OF A WOMAN FROM ANCIENT GREECE. This was a big deal because the art world was dominated by heroic male nudity at the time. The nudity was so controversial at the time that the city of Cos that originally commissioned it refused to take it. However, the city of Knidos bought it and it
    became such a popular tourist attraction, the entire city managed to pay off its debt.
  • Phryne was the model for more of Praxilteles’ sculptures, including one that depicted Eros, the Greek version of cupid, and one of Phryne herself that was made of SOLID FUCKING GOLD and placed in the temple of Delphi.
  • When philosopher Crates of Thebes saw the gold statue, he called it “a votive offering of the profligacy of Greece.”
  • Phryne made bank as a sex worker and model. She was apparently so rich that after the walls of Thebes were destroyed by Alexander the Great in 336 BC, she offered to pay to rebuild them on one condition; that the walls be inscribed with the message “Destroyed by Alexander, Restored by Phryne the Courtesan.”
  • However, the city rejected her offer because the idea that a woman, let alone a sex worker, could rebuild the walls that a powerful man destroyed, was emasculating to the male leaders of the city.
  • Most of what we know of Phryne is from writer Athenaeus (Athen-aus). He wrote of her once: “Phryne was a really beautiful woman, even in those parts of her person which were not generally seen: on which account it was not easy to see her naked; for she used to wear a tunic which covered her whole person, and she never used the public baths. But on the solemn assembly of the Eleusinian festival, and on the feast of the Poseidonia, then she laid aside her garments in the sight of all the assembled Greeks, and having undone her hair, she went to bathe in the sea.”
  • Sometime during her life Phryne faced a capital criminal charge. We don’t know what she was charged with, but some records suggest it was impiety, or a lack of reverence for the gods.
  • Her defender was the great orator Hypereides who was also one of her clients.
  • Now, in ancient Greece, beauty was likened to favor from the gods. If you were born beautiful, you must be blessed.
  • So, when things weren’t looking good for her, Hypereides removed Phryne’s robe and basically told everyone to look at her breasts.
  • Not wanting to be smited by the gods, the judges acquitted Phryne.

Hollywood’s Dahling & A Furious Lesbian

First here is the chart of Actresses and their relationship from this time.


Tallulah Bankhead

Born: January 31, 1902     Died: December 12, 1968

What she did: Actress


  • Tallulah was born on January 31 st , 1902 in Huntsville Alabama on her parent’s second wedding anniversary. Her father was from a political family and active in the Democratic Party and became the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
  • Three weeks after Tallulah was born, her mother died from sepsis. This apparently ran in the family because Tallulah’s mother’s mother also died after giving birth. On her death bed, Tallulah’s mother told her sister-in-law to take care of Tallulah’s older sister but that Tallulah would always be able to take care of herself.
  • Tallulah was baptized next to her mother’s coffin.
  • Devastated by the loss, Tallulah’s father was largely unable to care for his children. They were primarilyraised by their paternal grandmother.
  • Tallulah was considered a homely child and overweight. Because of this, she was overshadowed by her traditionally attractive sister.
  • In an effort to get attention, Tallulah got creative. She learned to sing,
    cartwheel, dance, recite literature, do imitations, and perform. When that didn’t work, she threw epic tantrums and held her breath until her face turned blue. To combat these tantrums, her grandmother would throw a bucket of water on her.
  • As a child, Tallulah was sickly and had chronic bronchitis which resulted in a husky voice.
  • Later, Tallulah would say her first performance was for the Wright brothers when her Aunt hosted them at a party. Tallulah imitated her kindergarten teacher and won a prize, awarded to her by the Wright brothers.
  • As Tallulah and her sister got older, they were becoming harder for their grandmother to handle. So, in 1912, when Tallulah was 10, she and her sister were enrolled in a covenant school. Tallulah began to mature into a beautiful southern belle and while her sister married at 16 Tallulah decided to pursue an acting career.
  • When a magazine called Picture Play ran a beauty contest that would award winners a trip to New York and a part in a movie, Tallulah submitted her photo.
  • However, she forgot tosubmit her name and address with it. When the magazine announced the winners, they included Tallulah’s picture with the tagline, “Who is she?”
  • Tallulah only found out she was a winner when she saw this in the magazine.
  • Winning the contest turned out to be a non-starter. She went to New York, had a minor part in the movie Who Loved Him Best and was paid $75 for the work.
  • However, she did fall in love with New York and decided to stay. She moved into the Algonquin Hotel which was the it spot for the artsy elite and found a home as a member of the Algonquin Round Table.
  • When Tallulah moved to New York, her father warned her to stay away from alcohol and men. She later remarked, “He didn’t say anything about women and cocaine.”
  • While partying with the Algonquin Round Table, Tallulah didn’t drink, but she indulged in cocaine, and pot. She would say that “cocaine isn’t habit-forming and I know because I’ve been taking it for years.”
  • At parties, Tallulah would introduce herself saying, “I’m a lesbian, what do you do?”
  • It was this and her general quippyness that gained her the reputation as one of the great wits of Manhattan.
  • Tallulah had roles in a variety of silent movies and on the stage, including being in Footloose.
  • Despite being praised for her acting, nothing she was cast in really took off. After 5 years in New York, Tallulah decided to broaden her horizons and moved to London in 1922. When she left for London on the SS Majestic, a crowd of fans gathered on the pier to see her off.
  • Tallulah found success in London, appearing in a ton of plays and performing in They Knew What They Wanted, a show which won the 1925 Pulitzer Prize.
  • She gained a reputation for spinning straw into gold when it came to the plays she was in. She wrote of one instance where she saved a show from disaster on opening night. “In the second act, I came on carrying a monkey. On opening night, the monkey went berserk. He snatched my black wig from my head, leaped from my arms and scampered down to the footlights. There he paused, peered out at the audience, then waved my wig over his head. The audience had been
    giggling at the absurd plot even before this simian had at me. Now it became hysterical. What did Tallulah do in this crisis? I turned a cartwheel! The audience roared. After the monkey business, I was afraid they might boo me. Instead I received an ovation.”
  • Enjoying her success, she bought a Bentley and would drive around London.
    Unfortunately, she was terrible with directions and would call a cab to find her when she got lost and have the driver lead her home while she followed in her Bentley.
  • After 9 years in London, Tallulah decided to take on Hollywood.
  • While in Hollywood, Tallulah hosted ‘boundary free’ parties. Probably to spice things up because she thought making movies was boring as hell. She once asked producer Irving Thalberg, “How do you get laid in this dreadful place?” Irving replied, “I’m sure you’ll have no problem. Ask anyone.”
  • Tallulah must have taken his advice because she was a very sexually liberated lady. She had relationships with many notable women including Greta Garbo, Billie Holiday, Alla Nazimova, Hattie McDaniel, and more. Tallulah also had romantic relationships with men and was married to actor John Emery from 1937 to 1941.
  • After their divorce, she told a reporter, “You can definitely quote me as saying there will be no plans for a remarriage.”
  • When it came to talking about her sexuality, Tallulah was very open. She never used the word bisexual.
  • In 1931, Tallulah starred in a movie called Devil and the Deep in which she received top billing over Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and Charles Laughton, which was kind of a big deal. However, Tallulah was looking for more than the $50,000 she was paid. She would say “Dahling, the main reason I accepted the part was to fuck that divine Gary Cooper!”
  • Unfortunately, Tallulah contracted a VD she claimed was from George Raft and had to have an emergency hysterectomy.
  • She almost died during the 5 hour surgery and weighed only 70lbs by the time she left the hospital. Before being discharged, she told her doctor, “Don’t think this has taught me a lesson.”
  • After recovering, Tallulah returned to Broadway. Then, a little movie called Gone with the Wind popped on the scene and Tallulah was one of the first choices for the leading role of Scarlett O’Hara. However, they felt that Tallulah at 36 was too old to play the role of 16-year-old Scarlett.
    • Tallulah was, however, offered the role of a sex worker in
      the film, which she politely turned down.
  • Instead, Tallulah performed in the play The Little Foxes as the lead character, Regina.
  • Her performance won her Variety’s award for Best Actress of the Year and was featured on the cover of Life magazine. Tallulah described it as “the best role I ever had in the theater.”
  • When Bette Davis played the role of Regina in the film version, she modeled her performance after Tallulah’s.
  • In 1944, Tallulah started in her most successful film; Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. Her role in this won herthe New York Film Critics Circle award. When she accepted the award, she said, “Dahlings, I was wonderful!”
  • Tallulah was also politically active. She heavily campaigned for Harry Truman’s 1948 reelection and is credited with significantly helping him get elected. She was even invited to sit with Truman during his inauguration.
  • Also in 1948, the Kinsey Reports were released. These were two reports on human sexuality; one devoted to male sexuality and the other to female sexuality. The Kinsey reports were pretty controversial as they expressed the idea of the sexual spectrum and of the female orgasm.
    • Tallulah remarked on the Kinsey Reports, saying, “I found no surprises in the Kinsey report. The good doctor’s clinical notes were old hat to me. I’ve had many momentary love affairs. A lot of these impromptu romances have been climaxed in a fashion not generally condoned. I go into them impulsively. I scorn any notion of their permanence. I forget the fever associated with them when a new interest presents itself.”
  • Tallulah’s sexuality, and relationships with both men and women won her a place in the Hays Committee’s “Doom Book,” which was a list of 150 actors who were seen as immoral or unsuitable for the public.
  • Tallulah knew what was up because she called the code’s namesake Will H. Hays, “a little prick.” Tallulah was listed at the top of the Doom Book under the heading “Verbal Moral Turpitude.”
  • Though she was living an intense lifestyle which consisted of heavy drinking, sleeping pills, sexy finger quotes ‘scandalous’ relationships, and 150 cigarettes per day, Tallulah continued performing through the 50s and 60s. She was in movies, plays, on television, and the radio.
  • One of her later notable performances was as Blance DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. She was tight with Tennessee Williams. However, her performances were originally too campy and Tennessee Williams said she was “the worst I have seen.”
  • Tallulah revised her performance and Tennessee Williams said, “I’m not ashamed to say that I shed tears almost all the way through and that
    when the play was finished I rushed up to her and fell to my knees at her feet.
  • The human drama, the paly of a woman’s great valor and an artist’s truth, her own, far superseded, and even eclipsed, to my eye, the performance of my own play.” So basically, she rocked it so hard that even the playwright was
    like, ‘I could never even imagine this majesty from my own fucking play.’
  • On December 12 th , 1968, Tallulah died of double pneumonia which was complicated by a combination of emphysema, malnutrition, and the flu.
  • Allegedly, her last words were a request for codeine and bourbon.
  • Tallulah was buried in Saint Paul’s Churchyard near Chestertown, Maryland.


  • The Issac Schiffman Building where Tallulah was born is not a historic landmark and there is a marker erected to commemorate the site of her birth.
  • Tallulah has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • Tallulah wasn’t just a phenomenal actress, but her openness with sexuality and relationships with women was revolutionary for the time. Tallulah lived her life out loud and apologized for nothing. She crafted herself into a legend and said, “I don’t give a fuck what people say about me, so long as they say something.”


Mercedes de Acosta

Born: March 1, 1892 or 1893    Died: May 9, 1968

What she did: American poet, playwright, novelist, and “the greatest starfucker ever.”


  • She was born in New York City on March 1, 1892 or 1893.Her father, Ricardo de Acosta, was born in Spain and later emigrated to Cuba, then to the United States. Her mother, Micaela Hernández de Alba y de Alba, was also Spanish and reportedly a descendant of the Spanish Dukes of Alba.
  • Mercedes attended elementary school at the Covenant of the Blessed Sacrement on West 79th Street in Manhattan where Dorothy Parker was a classmate.
  • Mercedes, along with her parents and siblings, lived in New York City on fashionable Forty-seventh Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where their neighbors included such personalities as former President Theodore Roosevelt, and the William Vanderbilts.
  • Mercedes’s parents often took part in the genteel, social activities of the neighborhood.
  • Mercedes was involved in numerous lesbian relationships with Broadway’s and Hollywood’s elite and she did not attempt to hide her sexuality; her uncloseted existence was very rare and daring in her generation.
  • She was notorious for walking the streets of New York in mannish pants, pointed shoes trimmed with buckles, tricorn hat, and cape. Her chalk white face, deep-set eyes, thin red lips, and jet black hair slicked back with brilliantine prompted Tallulah Bankhead to call her Countess Dracula.
  • In 1916 she began an affair with actress Alla Nazimova.
  • In 1917, Mercedes established a long-time relationship with the famous dancer Isadora Duncan.
  • In spite of her desire for other women, in 1920 she contemplated marriage to Abram Poole, a wealthy portrait painter, whose family was in the Social Register. But when he proposed, she balked. “I couldn’t make up my mind,” she wrote. “As a matter of fact I was in a strange turmoil about world affairs, my own writing, suffrage, sex, and my inner spiritual development.”
  • Mercedes did eventually marry Abram in 1920.They divorced in 1935. Undoubtedly contributing to her turmoil was meeting the young, attractive, and ambitious actress Eva Le Gallienne just three days before Mercedes’s marriage. Soon after her honeymoon, she began a five-year romantic relationship with the actress.
    • While Le Gallienne toured around the country in 1922 in the play Liliom, she mailed to Mercedes 3 or 4 letters daily. Mercedes wrote two plays for Le Gallienne, Sandro Botticelli and Jehanne de Arc. After the financial failures of both plays they ended their relationship.
  • In the 1920s, she was a figure in both the city’s “high society” and its drag clubs and speakeasies. “These were years guided by the spirit of the New,” she wrote of this period; “We were on fire with fire, with a passion to create and a daring to achieve.”
  • An early feminist, Mercedes advocated, along with her friend and lover the dancer Isadora Duncan, the elimination of uncomfortable and restricting fashions for women; while other women were lacing themselves into corsets, Mercedes was often seen wearing trousers.
  • Over the next decade she was involved with several famous actresses and dancers including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ona Munson, and Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina. Additional unsubstantiated rumors include affairs with Pola Negri, Eleonora Duse, Katherine Cornell, and Alice B. Toklas.
  • An ardent liberal, Mercedes was committed to several political causes. Concerned about the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936, for example, she supported the Republican government that opposed the Nationalist faction.A tireless advocate for women’s rights, she wrote in her memoir, “I believed…in every form of independence for women and I was…an enrolled worker for women’s suffrage.”
  • She also became a vegetarian and, out of respect for animals, refused to wear furs.
  • In 1931, soon after she moved to Hollywood, she met Greta Garbo. For the next 12 years, they had an unpredictable relationship. At times Garbo would shower Mercedes with flowers and gifts. Mercedes became so enamored that she pasted photos of Garbo into her Bible. They vacationed together, sunbathed in the nude, and lived together for a time in 1932.
    • She even convinced Garbo to visit her tailor and get a pair also, the two caused a great commotion on Hollywood Boulevard. “GARBO IN PANTS!” the headlines exclaimed. “Considering what walks down Hollywood Boulevard now,” Mercedes wrote in 1960, “it seems strange that Greta and I should have caused such a sensation.”
  • According to Acosta’s longtime friend Ram Gopal, “Once Mercedes met Garbo, all she did was dream of Garbo.” But Garbo was afraid of having her life exposed.
  • As their relationship developed, it became erratic and volatile with Garbo always in control. The two were very close sporadically and then apart for lengthy periods when Garbo, annoyed by Mercedes’ obsessive behavior, coupled with her own neuroses, ignored her.
  • In any case, they remained friends for thirty years during which time Garbo wrote Mercedes 181 letters, cards, and telegrams. About their friendship, Cecil Beaton, who was close to both women, recorded in his 1958 memoir, “Mercedes is [Garbo’s] very best friend and for 30 years has stood by her, willing to devote her life to her”.
  • At times Garbo would shower Mercedes with flowers and gifts. Mercedes became so enamored that she pasted photos of Garbo into her Bible. They vacationed together, sunbathed in the nude, and even lived together for a time in 1932. Garbo occasionally asked Mercedes to do some shopping for her and even enlisted her aid in finding places to live, both in Hollywood and in New York.
  • At one point, when Garbo was being particularly aloof, Mercedes engaged in a love affair with another screen goddess: Marlene Dietrich.
    • Though Dietrich was married, it did not prevent her from showering Mercedes daily with bouquets of roses and carnations.
    • When Dietrich was setting off for Europe, she wrote, “It will be hard to leave Hollywood now that I know you.” She mailed Mercedes dozens of letters and telegrams, always signing off with love and kisses and saying, “I kiss your beautiful hands and your heart.”
    • Mercedes wrote a poem for Marlene that read:

For Marlene, Your face is lit by moonlight
breaking through your skin soft, pale, radiant.
No suntan for you glow. For you are the essence
of the stars and the moon and the mystery of the night.

  • After Cecil Beaton accompanied her to the theater one night in 1930, he wrote in his diary that he sensed people looking at him and questioning why he associated with “that furious lesbian.” She often boasted of her sexual prowess, saying “I can get any woman from any man.”
  • There was perhaps justification for Alice B. Toklas’s observation, “Say what you will about Mercedes de Acosta, she’s had the most important women of the twentieth century.”
    • Even though these women included Isadora Duncan, Eva Le Gallienne, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich, she is usually portrayed as something of a perverse psychopath.
  • Mercedes published three volumes of poetry in the early 1920s, had several plays staged, and wrote various film treatments, but none of these brought her the success she sought.
  • In the early 1930s Mercedes developed an interest in Hinduism and was encouraged to seek out Indian mystic Meher Baba when he arrived in Hollywood.
  • For several years she was captivated by his philosophy and methods and he often gave her advice about ways to address her problems.
  • Later, she studied the philosophy of Hindu sage Ramana Maharishi who introduced her to yoga, meditation, and other spiritual practices she hoped would help ease her suffering.
  • In 1938, she met Hindu dancer Ram Gopal in Hollywood. They immediately established a rapport and became close lifelong friends. Later that year they traveled to India to meet Maharishi.
  • Mercedes immigrated to Paris, where she lived during the 1950s. By 1960, Mercedes had returned to New York, destitute and in poor health.
  • After a life surrounded by fame, glamour, and wealth, Mercedes spent her last years in loneliness and poverty. She suffered a variety of illnesses later in life, requiring several painful surgeries, and was forced to sell her diamonds to pay her medical bills.
  • In 1960, when Mercedes was seriously ill with a brain tumor and in need of money, she published her memoir, Here Lies the Heart. While the book is often considered the great lesbian “kiss-and-tell” memoir, Mercedes was careful to avoid directly specifying the sexual nature of her relationships.
  • But its implied homosexuality resulted in the severance of several friendships with women who felt she had betrayed their sexuality.
    • Garbo ended their friendship at this time, she her on the sidewalks of New York and refused to see Mercedes even when she was on her death bed.
    • Eva Le Gallienne in particular was furious, denouncing Mercedes as a liar and stating that she invented the stories for fame. This characterization is inaccurate since many of her affairs and relationships with women, including that with Le Gallienne, are confirmed in personal correspondence. When a friend found a gold wedding band in Eva’s attic some ten years after Mercedes had died and asked what it was, Eva snatched it away, threw it down a well outside her home, and grumbled, “It was from Mercedes.” If Le Gallienne was in a room and heard Mercedes name mentioned, she would storm out of the room in disgust. Le Gallienne told everyone that she thought the book should have been called “Here the Heart Lies and Lies and Lies.” Le Gallienne never forgave Mercedes.
    • An exception to this was Marlene Dietrich, who continued to correspond with her and loved the book.
    • According to critic Patricia White, “If she craved being seen, MdA was more careful about what she said than she is given credit for. She wrote a name-dropping memoir, but for something attacked for exaggeration, it barely alludes to homosexuality”.
  •  When she died in 1968 she was penniless and living in a tiny, two-room apartment in New York City. She is buried at Trinity Cemetery in New York City.
  • Mercedes has usually been described disparagingly, dismissed as a “notorious lesbian” who was a dishonest nuisance to her lovers and who consistently “stalked” Garbo.
    • Garbo’s biographers, for example, assess their relationship from Garbo’s perspective in which Garbo is fundamentally blameless in their difficult relationship, a perpetual victim of Mercedes’s alleged irksome behavior. But Robert A. Schanke, Mercedes’s recent biographer, attempts, on the basis of extensive research, to provide an accurate picture of her.
    • She was, Schanke acknowledges, flawed and imperfect, a complex woman who impaired several of her relationships and failed to achieve her professional and romantic aspirations. But he reveals her to have been an exceptionally lively, intelligent, and dynamic person who had many devoted friends.
    • She was, he argues, a brave lesbian of her times and a person of integrity who remained kind and loyal to most everyone with whom she crossed paths. He suggests that the many denigrating portrayals of her may derive from the deep homophobia of her generation.
  • Nevertheless, Karen Swenson, a Garbo biographer, and Schanke identified and corrected significant errors in Mercede’s account. While the memoir was initially unsuccessful, it was rediscovered in the late 1960s and widely read in the underground gay community. In spite of its inaccuracies, it is now recognized as an important contribution to gay and lesbian history.
  • Her poetic work consists mainly of three books published during her life: Moods (prose poems) (1919), Archways of Life (1921), and Streets and Shadows (1922).
    Composer Joseph Hallman memorialized Mercedes in the song cycle “Raving Beauty” for flute, harp, cello, and soprano.

Three Trans Trailblazers

I thought i had this set to auto post bad Kelley!



Dora Richter

Born: 1891   Died: 1933

What she did: First known person to undergo complete male-to-female gender reassignment surgery


  • Richter was born to a poor farming family in 1891 and raised as male.
  • Early in childhood, Richter displayed a “tendency to act and carry on in a feminine way”.
  • At the age of 6 years, she apparently tried to remove her penis with a tourniquet.
  • Using the name Dora, she began wearing women’s clothing and presenting as female, working under her birth name as a waiter in Berlin hotels during the busy summer season, then living as female the remainder of the year.
  • She was arrested from time to time for cross-dressing, serving time in prison before being released by a judge into the care of Magnus Hirschfeld.
    • Sex-research pioneer Magnus Hirschfeld at Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Research during the 1920s and early 1930s.
  • With special permission from the police to wear women’s clothing, Richter worked with other transgender people as a domestic servant at the Institute for Sexual Research (one of the rare places where a transvestite could be employed), where she was affectionately known as Dörchen.
  • Richter became one of five such employees at the Institute who were treated entirely as women.
  • Dr. Levy-Lenz who joined the institute in 1925, recalled how the ‘girls’ would sit together “peacefully knitting and sewing and singing old folk songs. These were, in any case, the best, most hardworking and conscientious domestic workers we ever had. Never ever did a stranger visiting us notice anything…”
  • In 1922, she underwent an orchiectomy (testicle removal).
  • Dr. Felix Abraham, a psychiatrist working at the institute, published Richter’s gender transformation as a case study: “Her castration had the effect – albeit not very extensive – of making her body become fuller, restricting her beard growth, making visible the first signs of breast development, and giving the pelvic fat pad… a more feminine shape.”
  • In early 1931, Richter had a penectomy performed by institute physician Dr. Levy-Lenz, and in June that year an artificial vagina was surgically grafted by Berlin surgeon Prof. Dr. Erwing Gohrbandt making her the first transgender woman of whom records remain to undergo vaginoplasty.
  • In May 1933, with growing Nazi influence in Germany, a mob attacked the institute, and burned its records. Richter worked as a maid at the institute and is not known to have survived this attack.


Christine Jorgensen

Born: May 30, 1926   Died: May 3, 1989

What she did: First American to have gender reassignment surgery and be public about it.


  • Christine was the second child of carpenter and contractor George William Jorgensen Sr. and his wife Florence Davis Hansen.
  • She later described herself as having been a “frail, blond, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games”.
  • Jorgensen graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in 1945 and shortly afterward was drafted into the U.S. Army at the age of 19.
  • After being discharged from the army, Jorgensen attended Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, New York the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Connecticut and the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School in New York City. She also worked briefly for Pathé News.
  • Returning to New York after military service and increasingly concerned over a “lack of male physical development” Jorgensen heard about sex reassignment surgery.
  • She began taking estrogen in the form of ethinylestradiol and researching the surgery with the help of Dr. Joseph Angelo, the husband of a classmate at the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School.
  • Jorgensen intended to go to Sweden, where the only doctors in the world who then performed the surgery were located. During a stopover in Copenhagen to visit relatives, she met Dr. Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy. Jorgensen stayed in Denmark and underwent hormone replacement therapy under Dr. Hamburger’s direction. She chose the name Christine in honor of Dr. Hamburger.
  • She obtained special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice to undergo a series of operations in that country. On September 24, 1951, surgeons at Gentofte Hospital in Copenhagen performed an orchiectomy on Jorgensen. In a letter to friends on October 8, 1951, she referred to how the surgery affected her:

As you can see by the enclosed photos, taken just before the operation, I have changed a great deal. But it is the other changes that are so much more important. Remember the shy, miserable person who left America? Well, that person is no more and, as you can see, I’m in marvelous spirits.

  • In November 1952, doctors at Copenhagen University Hospital performed a penectomy. In Jorgensen’s words, “My second operation, as the previous one, was not such a major work of surgery as it may imply.”
  • She then returned to the United States and eventually obtained a vaginoplasty when the procedure became available there.
  • The vaginoplasty was performed under the direction of Dr. Angelo, with Harry Benjamin as a medical adviser.
    • Later, in the preface of Jorgensen’s autobiography, Harry Benjamin gave her credit for the advancement of his studies. He wrote, “Indeed Christine, without you, probably none of this would have happened; the grant, my publications, lectures, etc.”
  • When she returned home in 1955, her new outgoing self, coped well with the publicity certain tabloids stirred, up with, sensationalist headlines such as: “Ex-Gi Becomes Blond Beauty” and ‘Dear Mum and Dad, Son Wrote, I Have Now Become Your Daughter.”
  • The first authorized account of her story was written by Jorgensen herself in a February 1953 issue of The American Weekly, titled “The Story of My Life”.
  • The publicity created a platform for her, and she used it to advocate for transgender people.
  • New York radio host Barry Gray asked her if jokes such as “Christine Jorgensen went abroad, and came back a broad” bothered her. She laughed and said that they did not bother her at all. However, another encounter demonstrated that Jorgensen could be offended by some questions.
  • After her vaginoplasty, Jorgensen planned to marry labor union statistician John Traub, but the engagement was called off.
  • In 1959 she announced her engagement to typist Howard J. Knox in Massapequa Park, New York, where her father had built her a house in Massapequa, NY after her reassignment surgery. However, the couple was unable to obtain a marriage license because Jorgensen’s birth certificate listed her as male.
  • In 1967, Jorgensen moved to California after her parents died. She left behind the ranch home built by her father in Massapequa and settled at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, California for a period of time.
  • It was also during this same year that Jorgensen published her autobiography Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography, which chronicled her life experiences as a trans woman and included her own personal perspectives on major events in her life.
  • During the 1970s and 1980s, Jorgensen toured university campuses and other venues to speak about her experiences. She was known for her directness and polished wit.
  • Jorgensen also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer and recorded several songs. In summer stock, she played Madame Rosepettle in the play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad.
  • In her nightclub act, she sang several songs, including “I Enjoy Being a Girl”, and at the end made a quick change into a Wonder Woman costume. She later recalled that Warner Communications, owners of the Wonder Woman character’s copyright, demanded that she stop using the character; she did so and instead used a new character of her own invention, Superwoman, who was marked by the inclusion of a large letter S on her cape.
  • Jorgensen continued her act, performing at Freddy’s Supper Club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan until at least 1982, when she performed twice in the Hollywood area: once at the Backlot Theatre, and later at The Frog Pond restaurant.
  • This performance was recorded and has been made available as an album on iTunes.
  • In 1984, Jorgensen returned to Copenhagen to perform her show and was featured in Teit Ritzau’s Danish transsexual documentary film Paradiset er ikke til salg (Paradise Is Not for Sale).
  • Jorgensen was the first and only known trans woman to perform at Oscar’s Delmonico Restaurant in downtown New York, for which owners Oscar and Mario Tucci received criticism.
  • Jorgensen said in 1989, the year of her death, that she had given the sexual revolution a “good swift kick in the pants”. She died of bladder and lung cancer four weeks short of her 63rd birthday. Her ashes were scattered off Dana Point, California.

Lili Elbe

Born: December 28, 1882  Died: September 13, 1931

What she did: Danish transgender woman and among the early recipients of sex reassignment surgery.


  • Lili Elbe was born on December 28th , 1882 in Vejle, Denmark.
  • Not much is known about her childhood, but it’s speculated that Lili was intersex.
  • In Lili’s case, it’s speculated she may have had Klinefelter syndrome in which a person has two X chromosomes and a Y chromosome.
  • Lili lived most of her life as a man. Lili studied art at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. There, she met Gerda Gottlieb. The two fell in love and Lili put a ring on it in 1905.
  • One day, Gerda asked Lili to model for her dressed in women’s clothing. Lili would later write that this helped her realize her true gender identity. Lili became a regular model for her wife.
  • The couple traveled around Italy and eventually ended up in France. When Lili and Gerda moved to Paris, Lili felt more comfortable dressing as a woman. She would go out in public sometimes under her male identity and other times as Lili.
  • As Lili began living more openly as a woman, Gerda identified as a lesbian.
  • Gerda’s paintings of Lili gained wide recognition. When the public realized the paintings were of Lili (who they understood to be Gerda’s husband) they were shocked.
  • During the 1920s and 30s, Lili regularly dressed as a woman, attending events and hosting at home. Sometimes Gerda would introduce Lili as her sister as only their closest friends knew she had transitioned.
  • In her autobiography, Lili wrote of a time when she dressed in a ballerina outfit, “I cannot deny, strange as it may sound, that I enjoyed myself in this disguise. I liked the feeling of soft women’s clothing. I felt very much at home in them from the first moment.”
  • In 1930, Lili, who desperately wanted to have a child of her own, was ready to take the next step in her transition.
  • She traveled to Germany to have sex reassignment surgery or gender reassignment surgery.
  • The first surgery Lili underwent was to remove her testicles. The operation was supervised by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld.
  • For some insight as to how important these surgeries were for Lili, before she even knew surgical transition was an option, she fell into a deep depression, unable to live as the person she knew she was and unable to even name how she felt. Lili even planned her suicide but never followed through.
  • The remainder of Lili’s surgeries were carried out by Kurt Warnekros, a gynaecologist and pioneer in sexual reassignment surgery. Lili’s remaining surgeries included an ovary implant, penis and scrotum removal, and a uterus transplant and vaginal canal construction. She also took synthetic sex hormones.
  • After the first three surgeries, Lili legally changed her name and obtained a passport that listed her sex as female. She chose her last name, Elbe, after the river Elbe that flowed through Germany, the country of her rebirth.
  • Lili’s revolutionary transition didn’t go unnoticed; newspapers in Denmark and Germany reported on the story. Unfortunately, this drew the attention of the King of Denmark, who voided her marriage to her wife Gerda. Though Gerda was a strong advocate for Lili throughout their time together, Gerda ended up going her own way, allowing Lili to live her new life on her own.
  • That was not the end of Lili’s romantic life, however. She eventually became engaged to an old friend named Claude.
  • Things were looking up as Lili prepared for her final surgery- the uterus transplant and vaginal construction.
  • Unfortunately, after the surgery, Lili contracted an infection and her body rejected the transplant. At the time, transplant rejection drugs were still in their infancy.
  • Though Lili knew she would not recover, she wrote letters to her loved ones
    describing how happy she was to finally realize her dream of becoming a woman. In one letter she wrote, “That I, Lili, am vital and have a right to life I have proved by living for 14 months. It may be said that 14 months is not much, but they seemed to me like a whole and happy human life.”
  • 3 months after the surgery, on September 13th , 1931, Lili died of cardiac arrest induced by the infection.
  • She was buried in Dresden, Germany. Her grave was then leveled in the 1960s.


  • In 2000, author David Ebershoff wrote The Danish Girl, a novel about Lili’s life. It became a bestseller and was made into a film by the same name in 2015. The film was criticized for casting a cisgender man to play Lili.
  • The production company of The Danish Girl erected a tombstone for Lili to replace the one that got mowed down.

In recent news, the World Health Organization, will no longer categorize transgender people as mentally ill!