Women's History Month: Kalpana Charla

Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-born American astronaut and aerospace engineer who was the first woman of Indian origin to fly to space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator aboard.

Chawla's second flight was on STS-107, the final flight of Columbia, in 2003. She was one of the seven crew members who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when the spacecraft disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere on 1 February 2003. Chawla was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and several streets, universities, and institutions are named in her honor

Women's History Month: The First Licensed Female Doctors

The three women pictured in this incredible photograph taken on this day in 1885 -- Anandibai Joshi of India, Keiko Okami of Japan, and Sabat Islambouli of Syria -- each became the first licensed female doctors in their respective countries. 

The three were students at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania; one of the only places in the world at the time where women could study medicine.

As Mallika Rao writes in HuffPost, "If the timing doesn't seem quite right, that's understandable. In 1885, women in the U.S. still couldn't vote, nor were they encouraged to learn very much. Popular wisdom decreed that studying was a threat to motherhood." Given this, how did three women from around the world end up studying there to become doctors? The credit, according to Christopher Woolf of PRI's The World, goes to the Quakers who "believed in women’s rights enough to set up the WMCP way back in 1850 in Germantown.”

Woolf added, "It was the first women’s medical college in the world, and immediately began attracting foreign students unable to study medicine in their home countries. First they came from elsewhere in North America and Europe, and then from further afield. Women, like Joshi in India and Keiko Okami in Japan, heard about WMCP, and defied expectations of society and family to travel independently to America to apply, then figure out how to pay for their tuition and board... . Besides the international students, it also produced the nation’s first Native American woman doctor, Susan La Flesche, while African Americans were often students as well. Some of whom, like Eliza Grier, were former slaves."

Women's History Month: Elizabeth Cochrane aka Nellie Bly

Eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Cochrane was living in Pittsburgh when the local newspaper published an article titled “What Girls are Good For” (having babies and keeping house was the answer, according to the article). The article displeased Elizabeth enough that she wrote an anonymous rebuttal, which in turned so impressed the paper’s editor that he ran an ad, asking the writer to identify herself. When Elizabeth contacted him, he hired her on the spot. It was customary at the time for female reporters to use pen names, so the editor gave her one that he took from a Stephen Foster song. It was the name under which she would become famous—Nellie Bly.

Bly’s passion was investigative reporting, but the paper usually assigned her to more “feminine” subjects—such as theater and fashion. After writing a controversial series of articles exposing the working conditions of female factory workers, and after again being relegated to reporting on society functions and women’s hobbies, at age 21 Bly left for Mexico on a dangerous and unprecedented (for a woman) assignment to report of the conditions of the working-class people there. After her reporting got her in trouble with the local authorities, she fled the country and later published her dispatches into a popular book.
At age 23, having established a reputation as a daring and provocative reporter, Bly was hired by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and there she began the undercover project that made her famous. In order to investigate the conditions inside New York’s “Women’s Lunatic Asylum,” Bly took on a fake identity, checked into a women’s boarding house, and faked insanity—so convincingly that she soon found herself committed to the asylum. The report she published of her ten days there was a sensation and led to important reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill.

The following year Bly undertook her most sensational assignment yet: a solo trip around the world inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. With only two days’ notice, Bly set out on November 14, 1889, carrying a travel bag with her toiletries and a change of underwear, and her purse tied around her neck. Pulitzer’s competitor, the New York Cosmopolitan, immediately sent out one of its reporters—Elizabeth Bisland—to race Bly, traveling in the opposite direction. As Pulitzer had hoped, the stunt was a publicity bonanza, as readers eagerly followed news on Bly’s journey and the paper sponsoring a contest for readers to guess the exact time of Bly’s return (with the correct guess winning an expense-paid trip to Europe).

Seventy-two days later, Bly made her triumphant return (four and half days ahead of Bisland), having circumnavigated the globe, traveling alone almost the entire time. It was the fastest any human had ever made the journey. Nellie Bly was an international celebrity.
At age 31 Bly married industrialist Robert Seaman, a 73-year-old millionaire, leaving behind her journalism career and her pen name. As Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman she helped run the family business. She patented two inventions during her time as an industrialist, but business was not her really in her skillset and under her leadership the company went bankrupt. When World War I broke out, she returned to journalism, becoming one of the first women reporters to work in an active war zone.

Women's History Month: Sara Mayer


The lady in the picture is Sara Mayer, the first non Japanese woman to receive a black belt in Judo, back in the thirties in Japan. This lady born in England in 1896 decided she wanted to learn judo and after starting to study it in London at the Budokwai, the oldest european dojo founded in 1912, she travelled for weeks all the way to Japan.

After years of hard training with men in Tokyo and Kyoto, refusing to train in the women only classes, and having to cope with the traditional Japanese culture that at the time didn't like to see women training with men, she was awarded the rank of shodan, black belt.

When asked why she was not embarrassed when ground fighting with men, she replied that during training one's sex didnt count.

Women's History Month: Julia Child

"My first big recipe was shark repellant that I mixed in a bathtub for the Navy, for the men who might get caught in the water."

Before she mastered the art of French cooking, Julia Child cooked up shark repellent while working for the precursor to the CIA as a covert operative during World War II. Sharks kept unintentionally setting off underwater explosives meant for German U-boats — until Child came up with an inventive recipe that saved the day.

Women's History Month: Jessie Tarbox Beals

Newspaper photography as a vocation for women is somewhat of an innovation, but is one that offers great inducements in the way of interest as well as profit. If one is the possessor of health and strength, a good news instinct . . . a fair photographic outfit, and the ability to hustle, which is the most necessary qualification, one can be a news photographer.

Jessie Tarbox Beals
The Focus, St. Louis, Missouri, 1904

Portrait of Jessie Tarbox Beals standing on a city sidewalk with her camera. New York, USA. Ca. 1902. Beals was the first published female photojournalist and first female night photographer in the United States.

Jessie Tarbox Beals is known as America's first female news photographer because The Buffalo Inquirer and The Courier hired her as a staff photographer in 1902. Although rarely hired again as a staff photographer, her freelance news photographs and her tenacity and self-promotion set her apart in a competitive field through the 1920s. At a time when most women's roles were confined to the home and most women who ventured into photography maintained homelike portrait studios, Jessie called attention to her willingness to work outdoors and in situations generally thought too rough for a woman. She excelled in photographing such news worthy events as the 1904 world's fair as well as documentary photography of houses, gardens, Bohemian Greenwich Village, slums, and school children.



Womens History Month

Bette Davis with Hattie McDaniel. Davis was the only white member of McDaniel’s troupe of performers to perform for black servicemen during WWII. McDaniel was the Chairman of the Negro Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee. She formed the troupe.

Womens History Month: Woman Warrior

The history of Onna-Bugeisha (Onna-Musha) traces back to Empress JingÅ« (169-269), one of the earliest female warriors in Japan. After her husband’s death, she took the throne and led an invasion of Silla (present-day Korea).

Remarkably, she fought while pregnant, defying societal norms, and ruled Japan for the next 70 years until the age of 100. In 1881, she even became the first woman to appear on a Japanese banknote.