From Slave to Soldier and The Most Dangerous Spy

Sorry this is a day late! The long holiday weekend got me all mixed up + being sick did not help at all. Thank you for reading! 🙂

Cathay Williams

Born: September 1844      Died: 1893

What she did: The first African-American woman to enlist in the Army


  • Cathay Williams was born in Independence Missouri in September of 1844.
  • She was a slave. Her father was a free man, but her mother was a slave.
  • Growing up, Cathay worked as a house slave on the Johnson plantation outside of Jefferson City, MO.
  • When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Union soldiers occupied the city.
    • At this time, the Union viewed captured slaves as “contraband” and many were forced to serve in the military serving as cooks, nurses, and other support roles.
  • At 17 years old, Cathay was forced to serve in the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
    • During her time with them, Cathay marched with the 8th Indiana through Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia.
    • She also witnessed African-American men serving as soldiers. When the Civil War ended, Cathay was working at Jefferson Barracks.
  • Cathay decided to officially join the U.S. Army in 1866.
    • There was just one little problem; women were not allowed to serve in the military.
    • To get around this small technicality, Cathay created the perfect alternate male persona. Cathay Williams enlisted in the U.S. Army under the name, William Cathay.
    • After passing what was certainly a very casual medical exam, Cathay enlisted for a 3-year engagement and was assigned to the 38th United States Infantry Regiment.
    • This made her the first African American woman to enlist in the United States Army and the only one we know of who served in drag.
  • During her service, Cathay contracted smallpox and was hospitalized. Cathay rejoined her unit in New Mexico when she recovered.
  • Unfortunately, a combination of the bout of smallpox, New Mexico heat, and physical strain of her service led to frequent illness. After being hospitalized MULTIPLE TIMES, a doctor finally noticed she was a woman.
  • The doctor notified the post commander and Cathay was subsequently honorably
    discharged on October 14th , 1868 after two years of service.
  • After her discharge from the military, Catahy joined the Buffalo Soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers were a group of African American soldiers who primarily served on the western frontier after the American Civil war. They primarily went after thieves, rustlers, and protected those traveling west.
  • Cathay bounced around a bit and eventually married, but the marriage ended poorly after the son of a bitch stole money and a team of horses from her.
    • Cathay promptly had him arrested.
  • Cathay held a few positions, including as a cook and a seamstress. In fact, it was while working as a seamstress that the word got out about Cathay’s story.
  • A reporter from St. Louis had heard rumors of her service and interviewed her. Her story was published in the St. Louis Daily Times on January 2nd , 1876.
  • Between 1889 and 1890, Cathay entered the hospital for some health issues. She applied for a disability pension based on her service. Although there was precedent for granting a pension to female soldiers, Cathay was denied.
  • In 1893, Cathay’s health issues escalated. She suffered from neuralgia and diabetes which required for all of her toes to be amputated meaning she had to walk with a crutch for the rest of her life. We don’t know when she died, but it’s likely it was soon after her disability claim was denied.


  • Over 400 women (that we know of) served in the Civil War disguised as mile soldiers, but Cathay was the first African American woman to enlist in the U.S. Army and was the only known female Buffalo Soldier.
  • Cathay felt the call to serve and wouldn’t let a silly little think like patriarchal bullshit stand in her way.

Virginia Hall

Born: 1906     Died: 1982

What she did: The Most Dangerous Spy of All, aka The Limping Lady


  • Virgina was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Barbara Virginia Hammel and Edwin Lee Hall. 
  • Beneath her passion for leading was a streak of independence and self-confidence.
  • She went to the prestigious Radcliffe College and Barnard College (Columbia University),where she studied French, Italian and German (and became fluent in all also learning some Russian).
  • She continued her studies in Paris and at the Konsularakademie in Vienna, where she earned a diploma in economics and international law.
  • With help from her parents, she traveled the Continent and studied in France, Germany, and Austria.
  • Finally she landed an appointment as a Consular Service clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, in 1931.
  • She grew restless and having ambition sought to join the diplomatic corps, which had very few women at the time.
  • In 1932 when she accidentally shot herself in the left leg while hunting birds in Turkey. After gangrene set in, Virginia lost a portion of her left leg, just below the knee.
  • Virginia learned to walk with the prosthetic limb, which she nicknamed “Cuthbert.”
    • This was a clunky appendage made of painted wood with its aluminum foot, weighed more than 7 pounds. It was attached by leather belts wrapped around Virginia’s waist.
  • The State Department had strict rules against employees with disabilities joining the diplomatic corps, and Virginia was furious when she was barred from testing.
  • Her preferred career path was blocked, and she resigned from the Department of State in 1939. Thereafter she attended graduate school at American University in Washington, DC.
  • She joined the Ambulance Service before the fall of France but after the Germans rolled through Paris in June 1940, her and a friend fled on a bike taking turns on the handle bars, she insisted on pedaling too despite her leg.
  • She retreated to London and when a vacancy opened at the US War Department, and she accepted a position as a code clerk.
  • Prime Minister Winston Churchill had just established the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to “set Europe ablaze” which sent her back to France in August 1941.
  • The SOE recruited Virginia to be its first woman resident agent in France. Using forged documents, false names, and working undercover as a reporter for the New York Post, Virginia established in August 1941 a headquarters in the Haute Loire Department between the cities of Toulouse and Lyon.
  • Her mission, code-named Geologist-5, was to provide SOE with information on Vichy France, including reports on political developments, economic conditions, and the popular will to resist.
  • Virginia went beyond her charter and proved adept at recruiting spies. She grew her agent network, code-named Heckler, into an important logistical hub.
  • Heckler, first on the ground, was centrally located. Virginia became an expert at support operations—organizing resistance movements; supplying agents with the money, weapons, and supplies; helping downed airmen to escape; offering safe houses and medical assistance to wounded agents and pilots.
  • She also developed a specialty: planning and executing jailbreaks. One of her agents, a local doctor named Jean Rousset, established an asylum for the mentally ill to provide medical support and hide escapees until safe passage from France could be found.
  • Being the nerve center made Virginia a Target as well. According to Dr. Dennis Casey of the U.S. Air Force Intelligence Agency, the French nicknamed her “la dame qui boite” and the Germans put “the limping lady” on their most wanted list.
  • Lyon’s Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie, who never knew Virginia’s true name or nationality, caught wind of her activities and was reported to have said, “I would give anything to get my hands on that limping Canadian Bitch.”
  • Of the more than 400 SOE agents ultimately sent to France, 25 percent didn’t return—many were executed on discovery—others survived brutal torture or were shipped to concentration camps.
  • With so many networks rolled up, Virginia became a more important source and conduit for information. When Virginia heard a French network in Paris codenamed Gloria was desperate to send reports and microfilm of German naval facilities to SOE London, she agreed to help.
    • She didn’t know that the leader of Gloria had been captured, tortured, and ultimately killed and that the Abwehr (German Intelligence Agency) controlled his organization. The Abwehr sent its agent—a Catholic priest turned informant, Abbé Robert Alesh—to courier tampered microfilm to Heckler’s drop at Dr. Rousset’s office.
    • Virginia didn’t trust the abbé and sensed the coming danger: agent networks were collapsing all around and both the Abwehr and Gestapo were closing in.
    • In September 1942, she sent a message to London: “My address has been given to Vichy . . . I may be watched . . . my time is about up.”
    • The Gestapo began a concerted focus on Lyon, where they noted a spike in escaped prisoners, sabotage efforts, and disappearances of downed pilots, much associated with the “Limping Lady.”
    • Barbie captured many of the HECKLER operatives in the ensuing months, Hall escaped the country in the knick of time.
  • Hall knew she had to leave immediately and narrowly escaped by train from Lyon to Perpignan, then walked over a 7,500 foot pass in the Pyrenees to Spain, covering up to 50 miles over two days in considerable discomfort.
  • Before making her escape, she signalled to SOE that she hoped Cuthbert would not give trouble on the way. The SOE, not understanding the reference, replied, “If Cuthbert troublesome, eliminate him”.
  • After arriving in Spain she was arrested by the Spanish authorities for illegally crossing the border, but the US Embassy eventually secured her release.
  • Virgina wanted to return to France however, the British refused her request, because she was too well-known to the Gestapo.
  • After working for SOE for a time in Madrid, she returned to London in July 1943 where she was quietly made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
  • Virginia joined the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Special Operations Branch in March 1944 and asked to return to occupied France.
  • The OSS promptly granted her request and landed her from a British MTB in Brittany (her artificial leg having kept her from parachuting in) with a forged French identification certificate for Marcelle Montagne. Codenamed “Diane”, she eluded the Gestapo and contacted the French Resistance in central France.
  • Hall disguised herself as a plump, elderly woman with a limp, changed her walk to a shuffle, and had the fillings of her teeth re-done to match French dentistry.  Hall took up the persona of Marcelle Montagne, a farmhand in a the small village of Crozant in central France where she tended cows, made cheese and assisted the farm owner.
  • While appearing to be a local peasant, she collected vital intelligence about German troop movements, established contacts with the resistance and radioed London. She also sold cheese to soldiers as a cover for collection. She would they relay information back to London sometimes using a bicycle to get power.
  • Despite her operational security and solid cover, she was interrogated and several local farmers were killed—their heads placed on spikes as a demonstration of what would happen if they were found collaborating with the enemy.
  • Seeing the increased risk of being discovered, Hall radioed London that “the wolves are at the door,” and fled to the town of Cosne, near Paris. Once there, she realized Cosne was a valuable operating base leading up to and after D-Day and set to work immediately.
  • She mapped drop zones for supplies and commandos from England, found safe houses, and linked up with a Jedburgh team after the Allied Forces landed at Normandy.
  • Allied troops overtook her small band in September. With the Germans beginning a retreat, Hall worked her way back to the Haute Loire, where she organized several thousand Maquis, blew up bridges, and conducted other sabotage operations to support the Allies’ D-Day invasion.
  • During a two-month period in mid-1944, Hall sent 37 intelligence reports, oversaw 27 parachute drops of material for the French resistance, coordinated the efforts of 1,500 resistance fighters, oversaw innumerable attacks resulting in more than 170 Germans killed and 800 captured, managed dozens of acts of sabotage that disrupted German logistics and reinforcements, and integrated a joint SOE-OSS operational team into her area of operations.
  • She was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the only civilian woman in the Second World War to do so.
    • She refused all but a private ceremony with OSS chief Donovan—even a presentation by President Truman. By this time Virginia had joined the CIA and thought the publicity would blow her cover.
  • After the war, Virginia, because she spoke Italian fluently, she was dispatched to Venice, where for several years she collected and transmitted economic, financial, and political intelligence with special emphasis on the Communist movement and its leaders.
  • She then worked for the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), a CIA front organization associated with Radio Free Europe.
  • In 1950, Hall married former OSS agent Paul Goillot when she had met in france, but he had arrived after D-Day and found no Germans to help fight as most of the resistance groups disbanded as they troops pulled out.
  • After the war, the 40-year-old Hall was eager to remain in the intelligence business. In 1951, she joined the Central Intelligence Agency.
  • She began working as an intelligence analyst on French parliamentary affairs. She worked alongside her husband as part of the Special Activities Division.
  • One of a handful of relatively senior women in the clandestine service, she worked in various elements of CIA until her mandatory retirement in 1966 at the age of 60.
  • Virginia Hall left no memoir, granted no interviews, and spoke little about her overseas life—even with relatives.
  • Virginia Hall Goillot died at the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Maryland, on 8 July 1982, aged 76.


  • Hall was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2019.
  • In 2006, the CIA hung an oil painting of Hall that depicts her inside a barn in southern France in 1944, using a suitcase radio powered by an automobile generator and bike parts to transmit messages to London.
  • Recently, the CIA also named a training facility after her called, “The Virginia Hall Expeditionary Center.”
  • She has had several book written about her one that may soon become a movie.

A Revolt Against Nature & The Night Witches

Camille Claudel

Born: December 8, 1864      Died: October 19, 1943

What she did: French sculptor


  • Camille Claudel was born in Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne, in northern France, the second child of a family of farmers and gentry.
  • The family moved to Villeneuve-sur-Fère while Camille was still a baby. Her younger brother Paul Claudel was born there in 1868. Subsequently, they moved to Bar-le-Duc (1870), Nogent-sur-Seine (1876), and Wassy-sur-Blaise (1879), although they continued to spend summers in Villeneuve-sur-Fère, and the stark landscape of that region made a deep impression on the children.
  • Camille moved with her mother, brother, and younger sister to the Montparnasse area of Paris in 1881. Her father remained behind, working to support them.
  • Claudel was fascinated with stone and soil as a child, and as a young woman she studied at the Académie Colarossi, one of the few places open to female students. She studied with sculptor Alfred Boucher.
  • In 1882, Claudel rented a workshop with other young women. Alfred Boucher had become her mentor, and he also provided inspiration and encouragement to the next generation of sculptors. Claudel was depicted by Boucher in Camille Claudel lisant, and later she sculpted a bust of her mentor.
  • After teaching Claudel and the other sculptors for over three years, Boucher moved to Florence. Before he left he asked Auguste Rodin to take over the instruction of his pupils. Rodin and Claudel met, and their artistic association and tumultuous and passionate relationship soon began.
  • Rodin, was impressed by the first works that Camille Claudel showed him. The pathetic realism apparent in the bust of Old Helen and the more conventional handling of Paul at Thirteen moved him deeply.
  • The exact nature of the tasks with which she was entrusted remains uncertain, but she apparently spent most of her time on difficult pieces, such as the hands and feet of figures for monumental sculptures (notably The Gates of Hell).
  • For Claudel, this was an intensive period of training under Rodin’s supervision: she learned about his profiles method and the importance of expression. In tandem, she pursued her own investigations, accepted her first commissions and sought recognition as an independent artist at the Salon.
  • Between 1882 and 1889, Claudel regularly exhibited busts and portraits of people close to her at the Salon des Artistes Français. Largely thanks to Léon Gauchez, Rodin’s friend the Belgian art dealer and critic, several of her works were purchased by French museums in the 1890s.
  • Claudel’s works during this period attest to Rodin’s influence: the Torso of a Standing Woman (c.1888) and the Torso of a Crouching Woman (1884-85) show how she had grasped the expressive potential of a fragment of the human body.
  • She also exerted a certain influence over Rodin, who recognized her as an artist in her own right. Take, for example, the fact that her Young Girl with a Sheaf (1886-87) preceded Rodin’s Galatea, whose sensibility is so similar. Owing to their stylistic proximity during this period, it is sometimes easy to mistake Claudel’s skill for that of Rodin’s in works on which she collaborated as his assistant: whereas the head of the figure of Avarice in Avarice and Lust has been erroneously attributed to her, the heads of The Slave and Laughing Man (c.1885), which were signed by Rodin when they were cast in bronze, were actually modelled by Claudel.
  • Claudel started working in Rodin’s workshop around 1884, and became a source of inspiration for him. She acted as his model, his confidante, and his lover. She never lived with Rodin, who was reluctant to end his 20-year relationship with Rose Beuret.
  • Knowledge of the affair agitated her family, especially her mother, who already detested her for not being a boy and never agreed with Claudel’s involvement in the arts.
  • In 1892, after an abortion, Claudel ended the intimate aspect of her relationship with Rodin, although they saw each other regularly until 1898.
  • Le Cornec and Pollock state that after the sculptors’ physical relationship ended, because of gender-based censorship and the sexual element of Claudel’s work she could not get the funding to get many of her daring ideas realized.
  • Claudel thus had to either depend on Rodin to realize them, or to collaborate with him and let him get the credit as the lionized figure of French sculptures.
  • She also depended on him financially, especially since her loving and wealthy father’s death. This allowed her mother and brother, who were suspicious of her lifestyle, to keep the money and let her wander around the streets dressed in beggars’ clothes.
  • Claudel’s reputation survived not because of her once notorious association with Rodin, but because of her work. Her early work is similar to Rodin’s in spirit, but shows an imagination and lyricism quite her own, particularly in the famous Bronze Waltz.
  • Claudel’s onyx and bronze small-scale La Vague (The Wave) (1897) was a conscious break in style from her Rodin period. It has a decorative quality quite different from the “heroic” feeling of her earlier work.
  • After Rodin saw Claudel’s The Mature Age for the first time, in 1899, he reacted with shock and anger. He suddenly and completely stopped his support for Claudel.
  • The Mature Age (1900) is usually interpreted as an allegory of the three stages of life: the man who represents Maturity is drawn into the hands of the old woman who represents Old Age and Death, while the young woman who represents Youth tries to save him.
  • One of Claudel’s figures, The Implorer, was produced as an edition of its own, and has been interpreted not as purely autobiographical but as an even more powerful representation of change and purpose in the human condition. Modeled for in 1898 and cast in 1905, Claudel didn’t actually cast her own bronze for this work, but instead The Implorer was cast in Paris by Eugene Blot.
  • In 1902 Claudel completed a large sculpture of Perseus and the Gorgon. Beginning in 1903, she exhibited her works at the Salon des Artistes français or at the Salon d’Automne.
  • Ayral-Clause says that even though Rodin clearly signed some of her works, he was not treating her as different because of her gender; artists at this time generally signed their apprentices’ work.
  • Others also criticize Rodin for not giving her the acknowledgment or support she deserved. Walker argues that most historians believe Rodin did what he could to help her after their separation, and that her destruction of her own oeuvre was partly responsible for the longtime neglect the art world showed her. \
  • Other authors write that it is still unclear how much Rodin influenced Claudel – and vice versa, how much credit has been taken away from her, or how much he was responsible for her woes. Most modern authors agree that she was an outstanding genius who, starting with wealth, beauty, iron will and a brilliant future even before meeting Rodin, was never rewarded and died in loneliness, poverty, and obscurity.
  • Others like Eisen, Matthews and Flemming suggest it was not Rodin, but her brother Paul who was jealous of her genius, and that he conspired with her mother, who never forgave her for her supposed immorality, to later ruin her and keep her confined to a mental hospital. Kavaler-Adler notes that her younger sister Louise, who desired Camille’s inheritance and was also jealous of her, was delighted at sister’s downfall.
  • After 1905 Claudel appeared to be mentally ill. She destroyed many of her statues, disappeared for long periods of time, exhibited signs of paranoia and was diagnosed as having schizophrenia. She accused Rodin of stealing her ideas and of leading a conspiracy to kill her.
  • 1906 saw her living secluded in her workshop.
  • Her Father (who always approved of her art) died on 2 March 1913, Claudel was not informed of his death. Instead, eight days later, on 10 March 1913, at the initiative of her younger brother Paul, she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital of Ville-Évrard in Neuilly-sur-Marne.
    • The form read that she had been “voluntarily” committed, although her admission was signed only by a doctor and her brother.
    • There are records to show that, while she did have mental outbursts, she was clear-headed while working on her art.
    • Doctors tried to convince Paul and their mother that Camille did not need to be in the institution, but they still kept her there.
  • On 7 September 1914 Camille was transferred with a number of other women, to the Montdevergues Asylum, at Montfavet, six kilometres from Avignon.
    • Her certificate of admittance to Montdevergues was signed on 22 September 1914; it reported that she suffered “from a systematic persecution delirium mostly based upon false interpretations and imagination”.
  • For a while, the press accused her family of committing a sculptor of genius. Her mother forbade her to receive mail from anyone other than her brother.
  • The hospital staff regularly proposed to her family that Claudel be released, but her mother adamantly refused each time.
  • On 1 June 1920, physician Dr. Brunet sent a letter advising her mother to try to reintegrate her daughter into the family environment. Nothing came of this.
  • Paul Claudel visited his confined older sister seven times in 30 years. Their sister Louise visited her just one time, in 1929. Her mother, who died in June, 1929, never visited Camille.
  • Camille Claudel died on 19 October 1943, after having lived 30 years in the asylum at Montfavet. Her brother Paul had been informed of his sister’s terminal illness in September and, with some difficulty, had crossed Occupied France to see her, although he was not present at her death or funeral. Her sister did not make the journey to Montfavet.
  • Claudel was interred in the cemetery of Montfavet, and eventually her remains were buried in a communal grave at the asylum.

The Night Witches

Years: 1942-1945

What they did: 588th Night Bomber Regiment


  • When the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, the Soviet Union realized they needed people and fast.
  • When World War II came to the Soviet Union, Marina used her status and connections with Joseph Stalin to convince the military to create 3 combat regiments for women.
  • To do this, she gave a speech on October 8th 1941 demanding that women be allowed to join the military as pilots, support staff, and engineers.
  • Later that day, Stalin created the all-female 122nd Aviation Corps.
  • The corps were made up of three regiments with 400 women each.
    • The 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment which was the first to take part in battle. They would destroy 30 enemy aircraft in 125 air battles.
    • The 587th Bomber Aviation Regiment which Marina commanded until her death in a service related plane crash in 1943. She was the first service member to receive a state funeral during the war.
    • Then 588th Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, also known as the Night Witches. The 588th is arguably the most famous of the 3 regiments.
  • The 588th flew tiny plywood biplanes called Polikarpov U-2s that didn’t have radar, radio, and weren’t ever intended for combat.
  • To compensate for the lack of technology, the pilots were equipped with rulers, stopwatches, flashlights, pencils, maps, and compasses.  Little did anyone know, these young women clad in second-hand men’s uniforms would become the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force.
  • The pilots would leave in two waves. The first wave would serve as interference, attracting German spotlights which would distract them from the second wave.
  • The first wave had no ammunition with which to defend themselves and would release a flare to identify the intended target. The second wave of planes, each carrying 2 bombs each, would idle the engine and glide to the target. The planes were too small to show up on radar.
  • The Polikarpovs would be carrying 2 bombs each. While the planes were slow and shitty, they were fast and maneuverable in the hands of these daring pilots.
  • As they approached, they would idle their engines and glide the rest of the way. The lack of sound combined with the cover of night allowed them to sneak up on the enemy. The only warning the Nazis had was a light whooshing sound which they likened to the sound of broomsticks, thus the name, Night Witches.
  • After their mission was complete, the pilots would fly back to their base, reload, and head out again, often flying 8-18 missions per night.
  • The Night Witches were so deadly, that any Nazi who could shoot down one of their planes was automatically awarded the Iron Cross medal, which was a very prestigious award in Nazi Germany.
  • The Nazis actually thought the women were master criminals who were sent to the front lines as punishment or super soldiers who could see at night. Let’s remember, these are women in their teens and early twenties with minimal training.
  • While the planes were difficult to shoot down, that doesn’t mean it never happened. One ace Nazi pilot managed to shoot down 4 planes in one night, grounding the entire regiment for the first time.
  • Their planes were highly flammable and the pilots weren’t given parachutes until 1944, so being shot by even one tracer bullet could be devastating.
  • The Night Witches abided by 12 Commandments. The first was “be proud you are a woman.”
  • In their spare time they would do needlework, patchwork, decorate their planes, and use their navigation pencils as eyeliner.
  • The Night Witches last flight was on May 4th, 1945. They flew within 37 miles of Berlin.
    • 3 days later, Nazi Germany officially surrendered. 
  • By the end of the war, they had lost a total of 30 pilots.
  • Despite their ability to excel with limited supplies, outdated equipment, and limited training, 6 months after the end of the war, the Night Witches were disbanded and excluded from the victory-day parade in Moscow.

A Catholic Sexologist and 10 Years of Badass Babes

Ten Episodes! Whoo! Glad your still here. Today will be a little different and Emily tried to really stretch the 10 thing and I did what has occurred in the last 10 years for women. Enjoy! ~Kelley

Saint Hildegard of Bingen

Born: 1098     Died: 1179

What they did: Christian mystic, visionary, and first sexologist?


  • In 1098, Hildegard was born as the 10th (and final) child to a noble family and therefore offered by her parents as tithe (or giving one tenth) to the church when she was 8 years old.
    • Giving your 10th child to the church was a common practice at the time. This may have also helped her parent’s politically.
  • As a child, Hildegard was sickly and experienced visions. This may have also contributed to their decision to give her to the church.
  • During her time in the church, she was taught for 10 years by the holy woman Blessed Jutta.
  • Together, Hildegard and Blessed Jutta created a close nit and growing community of women in a male dominated monastery.
  • Jutta also taught Hildegard to read and write and they would work together in the garden, recite psalms, and tend to the sick. Hildegard studied music.
  • After 10 years of instruction, at 18 years old, Hildegard became a Benedictine nun.
  • When Blessed Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard was elected as magistra or head teacher by her fellow nuns.
  • She was also offered a position as a Prioress by the monastery’s Abbot. This would have meant she would serve under him. Instead, Hildegard, wanting more independence for herself and the other nuns, and asked that the Abbot allow them to move from the monastery to a temporary dwelling where they would live in poverty.
  • Hildegard came down with a serious illness which left her bedridden. She felt that the illness was God’s way of showing His disappointment in Hildegard not following the Abbot’s wishes.
  • The Abbot finally relented and granted the nuns their own monastery. Stubbornness and paralyzing illness for the win!
  • In 1150, Hildegard with 20 other nuns moved to the St. Rupertsberg monastery.
  • 15 years later, Hildegard founded a second monastery for nuns at Eibingen.
  • Back to her visions, she described these visions a “The Shade of the Living Light.”
  • She would experience her visions with all five senses and said she saw all things through the light of God. The only one she shared her visions with was Blessed Jutta who in turn had told Volmar (who was the priest living at her monastery now)
  • Though she experienced visions all her life, when she was 42, she experienced a vision that she felt was God telling her to write down what she saw and heard.
    • However, she was still hesitant to share her visions and became seriously ill and experienced horrific visions which caused her to suffer.
  • She confided in Volmar who alerted the archbishop. A committee was formed to authenticate her visions and a monk was appointed to help Hildegard record them.
  • The collection of writings, known as the Scivias (Sivvy-us) or “Know the Ways” held 26 visions that ranged from prophetic and apocalyptic and covered topics about the church, redemption, and the relationship between God and humanity.
  • The Scivias was split into 3 parts, reflecting the trinity and contained illustrations. She completed the 3 parts when she was in her 70s.
  • Now, beyond her holy visions, Hildegard had a great love of music and composed pieces, each with original poetic text. 70 still survive.
    • One of her better known works, the Ordo Virtutum or Play of the Virtues is a morality play comprised of 82 songs. While it addresses morality, it doesn’t celebrate the church making it the earliest known musical drama that is not attached to a liturgy.
  • Hildegard didn’t stop there. She also wrote about medicine and science. Her scientific and medicinal writings come from her experience working in the garden with Blessed Jutta and caring for the sick along with her own independent study of the monastery library texts.
  • She explored topics including psychology, physiology, and women’s sexuality, making her one of the first people to do so.
    • Though a lot of her assertions were ‘unscientific’ by today’s standards, for example, she wrote that a waxing moon is good for human conception because it was also good for sowing seeds.
    • Hildegard was hailed as an expert and counseled kings, emperors, and even the Pope which was mind-blowing at the time.
  • Hildegard was the first person to write a description of the female orgasm from the point of view of a woman. She also advocated that sex was a beautiful and passionate act.
  • None of this was meant to go against the church. She thought people’s passion and their sexuality was an exhibition of divinity and she worked to expand understanding of sex and its ties with religion. Because the two can have a healthy relationship.
  • Hildegard was a curious, open-minded, and compassionate person.
  • Shortly before her death, a man who had been excommunicated from the church had died and was buried at the St. Rupertsburg Monastary. The clergy wanted to remove his body from the sacred ground but Hildegard would hear none of it, saying it would be a sin to move the man’s body as he had been reconciled to the church at his time of death.
  • When Hildegard died on September 17th, 1179. Upon her death, the sisters claimed they saw two streams of light appear in the skies and cross over the room where she lay.
  • Though Hildegard was one of the first people to begin the canonization process to become a saint, it actually took many attempts as the process was so long.
    • For a long time, she was stuck in the beatification stage, where the church acknowledges someone has gotten into heaven and can intervene on behalf of those who pray to them.
    • In 2012, Hildegard was canonized on May 10th 2012 by Pope Benedict the XVI and she was named a Doctor of the Church.
    • This title signifies someone who has made significant theological contributions through research, study, or writing. This made her the 4th woman of 35 saints to receive this title.
    • Her feast day is September 17th.

Highlights from the last 10 years! (condensed from the podcast)


  • Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing, for The Hurt Locker (2008).
  • Elinor Ostrom was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, and since she was American, the first American woman to do so; she shared the prize with Oliver E. Williamson.
  • Jeanne Shaheen became the first woman to hold the offices of U.S. Senator and state Governor, being elected as governor of New Hampshire from 1997 to 2003 and U.S. senator for New Hampshire since 2009.


  • Jennifer Gorovitz was the first woman to lead a large Jewish federation in America (specifically, the Jewish Community Federation, based in San Francisco).


  • Angella Reid was the first female White House Chief Usher.


  • United Nations passes a resolution banning female genital mutilation. The terror—and, unfortunate reality—of young girls up to the age of 15 having their genitals mutilated came to a screeching halt in 2012 (at least on paper) when the United Nations called on citizens worldwide to stop the practice, which has been most common in countries throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, affecting as many as 200 million girls and women. Thanks to increased awareness of this physically and emotionally scarring practice, February 6 was named International Day of Zero Tolerance.
  • Janet Wolfenbarger was the first female four-star general in the U.S. Air Force.
  • New Hampshire elects the first all-woman congressional delegation in U.S. history, with U.S. senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and U.S. representatives Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster.


  • Danica Patrick was the first woman to win a pole in the Daytona 500 and a NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race.
  • Rabbi Deborah Waxman was elected as the President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. As the President, she is believed to have been the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first female rabbi and first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; RRC is both a congregational union and a seminary.
  • Erika Schmidt was the first female director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis.
  • General Motors named Mary Barra as its first female CEO and the first female CEO of a major automaker.
  • Deborah Rutter was named as the first female president of the Kennedy Center.


  • Janet Yellen was confirmed by the Senate as the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve.
  • The first women competed in ski jumping at the Olympics.
  • Michelle J. Howard began her assignment as the U.S. Navy’s first female and first female African-American four-star admiral on July 1, 2014.
  • Katie Higgins was the first female pilot to join the Blue Angels, the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron.


  • The U.S. Senate confirmed Michelle K. Lee as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).[283] Lee is the first woman and the first person of color to lead the USPTO.


  • Hillary Clinton was formally nominated at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 26, 2016, becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major U.S. political party.
  • Hillary Clinton became the first woman to win the popular vote in a United States presidential election.
  • Faith Spotted Eagle became the first Native American and second woman to receive an electoral vote for president, which she received from a faithless elector.


  • Saudi Arabia lifts ban on female drivers. Imagine being a woman in this Middle Eastern country and needing a man to give you a lift for simple errands like picking up groceries at the market or visiting a friend. Last fall, the Saudi Arabian government lifted the ban on female drivers, set to take effect in June 2018.
  • India rules sex with minors illegal. A sign of the modernization of India was a Supreme Court ruling in October that deemed rape with a female under the age of 18 (even if the minor is a child bride) illegal. Further, being charged with this crime can result in a ten-year prison sentence. This ruling helps discourage the tradition of child brides and speaks to the country’s attempt to create more equal marriages.
  • Lebanon repeals law that sided with male rapists. It’s hard to believe, but until last summer, a male rapist in Lebanon could be exonerated if he married his rape victim. In August, Lebanon’s Parliament finally repealed the ancient law at the urging of women’s rights activists not only in Lebanon but around the world.


  • Iceland requires fair pay for women. Some countries talk a good game about equal pay for women, but Iceland made it the law of the land. Earlier this year, Iceland became the first country in the world to make it illegal—resulting in a fine—to pay men and women in the same job differently. One major difference between this law and the Equal Pay Act in the United States is that the burden is no longer on the employee to make this claim. To support women in business, take your money to one of these 23 amazing shopping sites that support women.
  • Gina Haspel became the first woman to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
  • Stacey Cunningham became the first female President of the New York Stock Exchange.


  • Nancy Pelosi became the first women to be reelected as the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.


Top 10 Women of 21st Century

  1. Ellen DeGeneres


    Portia de Rossi and DeGeneres in September 2012 From – Wikipedia

Born: January 26, 1958 (age 61)

According to a poll by Variety magazine in 2015, Ellen DeGeneres did more to influence American attitudes in regard to gay rights than any other celebrity. The talk show host came out as gay in 1997.She has authored four books and started her own record company, Eleveneleven, as well as a production company, A Very Good Production. She also launched a lifestyle brand, ED Ellen DeGeneres, which comprises a collection of apparel, accessories, home, baby, and pet items.She has won 30 Emmys (29 daytime 1 prime-time), 21 People’s Choice Awards (more than any other person), and numerous other awards for her work and charitable efforts. Recently, on 2016, she won the Presidential medal of Freedom aka the United States’ Highest Civilian Honor which given directly by President Barack Obama.

  1.  Ai-jen Poo


    Poo at the 2012 Time 100 gala From – Wikipedia

1974 (age 45 years)

Ai-jen Poo was a driving force behind the worker-led movement Domestic Workers United (a city-wide, multiracial organization of domestic workers) in New York City. The organization’s campaigns led to better conditions for domestic workers, raised awareness of economic contributions that domestic workers provide, helped get legal representation for abused workers, and crafted a framework of legal standards for workers. Ai-jen is a 2014 MacArthur “genius” Fellow, TIME 100 alumna and has been featured at United State of Women Summit, Aspen Ideas Festival, Obama Foundation Summit and the Women’s Convention. She is author of The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America as well.

  1. Malala Yousafzai


    Yousafzai in October 2015 From – Wikipedia

July 12, 1997 (age 21 years)

Malala Yousafzai, an advocate for women’s education rights, won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, making her the youngest recipient ever. She is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. She started her activism for the first time on September 2008 when she was 12, when her father took her to Peshawar, to a local press club in which she gave a speech titled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right To Education” . This caused the Taliban issued a death threat because of her activism. On 9 October 2012, while on a bus in the Swat District, after taking an exam, Yousafzai and two other girls were shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism; the gunman fled the scene. Yousafzai was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious and in critical condition at the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology, but her condition later improved enough for her to be transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK. The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of support for Yousafzai and on her 16th birthday on 2013, she gave speech for the United Nations to call for worldwide access education and even the United Nations called the event “Malala Day”.

  1. Oprah Winfrey


    Winfrey at the White House for the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors From – Wikipedia

January 29, 1954 (age 65 years)

Oprah Winfrey, the first African-American female billionaire, has had a significant influence on American culture since her time as a television talk show host. She played a key role in the emergence of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate and continues to be politically active.




  1. Judith Butler


    Butler in March 2012 From – Wikipedia

February 24, 1956 (age 63 years

Judith Butler is a philosopher and gender theorist who has written influential books on feminist and gay topics. Her books, such as “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity” and “Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex,” challenge conventions about gender.





  1. Beyonce


    Beyoncé performing during The Beyoncé Experience tour (2007) From – Wikipedia

September 4, 1981 (age 37 years)

Beyonce has more Grammy nominations, 66, than any other female performer, and she has won 22 times. She is an icon for feminism and for African American culture. She dipped her toe into politics at Super Bowl 50, when she had her backup singers dress in black with black berets and afros to protest racial injustice.





  1. J.K. Rowling


    Rowling at the White House, April 2010 From – Wikipedia

July 31, 1965 (age 53 years)

J.K. Rowling emerged from relative poverty in the United Kingdom to become the world’s first billionaire author as the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy book series. Her influence was such that she was the runner-up as Time magazine’s person of the year in 2007 because her books had been such an inspiration for her fans. Aside from her literary work, Rowling has established and contributed to charitable organizations to fight poverty and social inequality throughout the world. Since becoming so wealthy, Rowling has donated funds to several different charities, especially in the areas of poverty and multiple sclerosis (the disease from which her mother died). Her contributions, as well as her volunteer work, have been an example to millions of young readers.

  1. Yoani María Sánchez Cordero


    From Wikipedia

September 4, 1975 (age 43 years)

Yoani María Sánchez Cordero is a Cuban journalist and entrepreneur who gained notoriety and fans such as President Barack Obama for writing critically about Cuban daily life. She depicts life on the island nation through her blog “Generacion Y” that is translated into 17 languages. Sánchez Cordero overcomes censorship by emailing her blog to friends living outside Cuba, who then post them online.

  1. Laverne Cox


    Cox in July 2014 From – Wikipedia

May 29, 1972 (age 46 years

Laverne Cox is one of the highest-profile figures in the transgender community. She plays a transgender character on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” and does much advocacy work on behalf of her community. Cox has played other transgender characters on television, appearing in 2008 on the VH1 show “I Want to Work for Diddy.” She is the first transgender woman of color to appear on a reality TV show. She is the first transgender person to be on the cover of Time magazine. In May 2016, Cox was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The New School in New York City for her progressive work in the fight for gender equality.



  1. Michelle Obama


    Obama with children in Delhi, November 8, 2010. From – Wikipedia

January 17, 1964 (age 55 years)

Michelle Obama is a lawyer and writer who was First Lady of The United States from 2009-2017. She is married to the 44th President of United States, Barack Obama. She is also an advocate for poverty awareness, nutrition, physical activity and healthy eating. Her political and activism works as First Lady are really inspiring, some initiatives of First Lady Michelle Obama include advocating on behalf of military families, helping working women balance career and family, encouraging national service, and promoting the arts and arts education. On May 2014, she joined the campaign to bring back school girls who had been kidnapped in Nigeria. In 2010, Obama undertook her first lead role in an administration-wide initiative, which she named “Let’s Move!,” to make progress in reversing the 21st century trend of childhood obesity. She’s also supports the LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.

  1. Women and girls everywhere. “Unnamed and often unrecognized, many women and girls put their bodies and their lives at risk every day, fighting for social justice in small and big ways, to make the lives of other women and girls better, along with a more just world for us all. Any list of the most influential women must include all of those who remain unnamed.” – Mary Ebeling, PhD
    Everyone is capable of enacting change. We are the future and are in control of what we want the future to look like. As Amelia Earhart once said, “the most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”

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

Name: Paulina Luisi

Born: 1875    Died: 1950

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


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

The Onna-Bugeisha

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

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

Name: Empress Jingu

Born: 169    Died: 269


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

Name: Tomoe Gozen

Born: 1157   Died: 1247


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

Name: Nakano Takeko

Born: April 1847   Died: October 16, 1868


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

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

Name: Mariya Oktyabrskaya

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

What they did: Tank-Driving Nazi Killing Widow


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

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

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

Name: Sarah Emma Edmonds

Born: December, 1841    Died: September 5, 1898

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


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

Name: Isabella Goodwin

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

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


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