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.

Work

  • 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.

Legacy

  • 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.

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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.

LEGACY

  • 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.

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

Facts:

  • 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.

LEGACY

  • 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

Facts:

  • 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.

Legacy

  • 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.

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

Facts:

  • 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

Facts:

  • 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

Facts:

  • 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.