HEROINES THROUGH THE AGES
By Taylor Boyd
Last issue, for Women's History Month, Dish Magazine wrote about women who changed history and made strides to further the cause of equality. Check out Part I here. They were also truly interesting characters, (in short, wonderful ladies) but sadly, we could not include every remarkable woman on our list. Still, it’s a good problem to have too many candidates, but incredibly difficult to make the final decision. That’s why we’re excited to offer you our honorable mentions list.
So here they are, in no particular order! Enjoy!
Amelia Earhart: 1897-1937
Never do things others can do and will do, if there are things others cannot do or will not do.
Epic, almost romantic story.
Few pioneers in any field are as shrouded in legend as America's favorite missing person, Amelia Earhart. She has captured the imagination of the world's population for nearly eighty years, and her tale is epic and romantic, and ultimately, tragic.
A pioneer in the field of aviation, Earhart set her mind to learn how to fly, and fly she did, straight into the hearts of a country deep in the Depression. She flew into ad campaigns and into the media. Her likeness could be seen in fashion magazines. Her long and lean physique, a throwback to the more prosperous previous decade, the Roaring Twenties, was much envied and emulated. She was asked to endorse everything: from clothing to cigarettes. Her endorsement money paid for the upkeep of her plane, and made it possible for her to make flying her day job. By 1928, Earhart had flown solo across the US and back. She set her mind and heart upon flying solo across the world. She would have been the first woman to do so.
Earhart enjoyed a successful career throughout the 1930’s, making many solo flights, earning the nickname “Queen of the Air.” First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was very impressed with Earhart, as both were very active in championing the rights of women, and they soon became friends.
June 1, 1937, Earhart and her crew of one friend, Fred Noonan, as navigator, took off from Miami Florida in an attempt to circumnavigate the world. The rest is history. After an uneventful first 22,000 miles, Earhart prepared for the last 7,000 over the Pacific Ocean.
Starting in the early morning of July 2, 1937, Earhart’s radio transmissions become unclear as she piloted near Howland Island. Over the next few hours, it became increasingly difficult to communicate with the plane via radio and around 7:42 after a transmission was sent from Earhart that “gas is running low,” Morse code was employed, but ultimately unsuccessful in helping the doomed flight. The last contact came at 8:43 am. Then silence.
Search parties began a fruitless attempt to find the Queen of the Air, but no trace of her, Noonan, or the aircraft was ever found. Some theories claim she survived, crash-landed on an island, but no sign of her has ever been reported. Earhart’s husband and family were urged in 1939 to have her declared legally dead.
Amelia Earhart’s contributions to the field of aviation allowed flight to literally and figuratively take off. She was a celebrity, pioneer, and champion of women in her day and a true inspiration in history.
Sojourner Truth: 1797-1883
If women want any rights more than they's got, why don't they just take them, and not be talking about it?
Impassioned speeches, packed houses, and reporters scrambling to take down every word, sounds like the life of a modern day celebrity or politician; however, this scene describes the fervor in a lecture hall while a boisterous crowd listened to Sojourner Truth. A deeply religious woman, Truth traveled all over the country feeling called to speak about pacifism, religious tolerance, and women's rights.
Born into slavery, Truth’s name at birth was Isabella Baumfree. She suffered under the hands of several masters. She witnessed her children sold and the death of the man she loved. In 1826, all slaves in the state of New York were freed. Sojourner learned that her five-year-old son had been sold away south, rather than freed.
Sojourner screwed up her courage and righteous indignation and successfully sued her former master for illegally selling her son. It was unprecedented at the time for a black person, let alone a black woman, to take any man to court. Intimidated she was not and her persistence paid off. She won. Truth began her life’s work the day she saved her child. She proved to the world that she, a former slave and a woman, was a force to be reckoned with. She adopted the name history will remember her by, Sojourner Truth.
In 1851, Truth gave an impassioned speech on the rights of women entitled, “Ain't I a Woman?”
"That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?"
The press had a hard time writing her words down fast enough, or catching what she said over the shouts and cheers of approval. The pain and unmistakably harsh truth in her words stirred the minds and hearts of those who heard her firsthand and those who read it for themselves alike. Sojourner Truth continued to lecture and travel for the rest of her days, living long enough to see the emancipation of all those enslaved in America and the end of the Civil War, ensuring that these slaves would be, in Lincoln’s words, “thenceforward, and forever free.”
Helen Keller: 1880-1968
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.
Helen Keller’s introduction to language has been immortalized by the play, The Miracle Worker, but Helen Keller’s real life doesn’t end with a young girl and her epiphany at the water pump. Her story only begins there.
After going blind and deaf in her infancy, Helen Keller spent her life helping others to “see” the possibilities in the world. A precocious child, Keller used self-taught signs she created to communicate with her family as a small child. Desperate to give their child the best chance of leading an independent life, Keller’s parents sought the advice of the Perkins Institute for the Blind. Little did they know then that they had just started their child down a path of not just independence, but of political advocacy and set her up to become a beacon of hope to others that society classified as “different.”
Anne Sullivan, a teacher recommended by the Perkins Institute, was just the teacher to lead Keller out of the metaphorical darkness. With her natural curiosity and intelligence, Keller made short work of learning sign language, and learned how to speak and read lips by placing her fingers on people’s lips. Sullivan and Keller would remain friends and companions for the rest of their lives.
Keller’s intellect and hunger for knowledge was insatiable. She began writing books, 12 in total, including her own autobiography, which details her frustration at being, what seemed to her, locked out of the world, and her desire to become a part of it.
After graduating from college in 1904, she became a public speaker and lecturer on the topics of politics and civil liberties. In 1915, she founded the Helen Keller International Organization, which researched ways to improve the health of all citizens. Keller also became a fierce suffragette and lobbied for women’s right to vote and work outside the home.
Keller’s strong political beliefs and socialist sympathies were deemed too radical by the press, and the media were quick to point out her disabilities when before, they had lauded her courage and ability to overcome. Despite her disappointment at being shut down by her opposition, she continued her work stating that helping one’s fellow man was:
“One’s only excuse for being in this world.”
Keller dedicated her life to speaking on behalf of the voiceless. She earned praise for her abilities to overcome barriers, while simultaneously censored because of her political beliefs. Helen Keller overcame a life of darkness and silence, only to be muted in the press for her political beliefs. Keller held her own in a world she learned to successfully navigate.
Lupe Velez: 1908-1944
In a church, I am a saint. In a public place, I am a lady. In my own home, I am a devil....My house is where I can do as I please, scream and yell and dance and fall on the floor if I like. I am myself when I am in my home.
Dubbed the “Mexican Spitfire” and “Whoopee Lupe” in the press that adored her, Lupe Velez, conquered Vaudeville and made the difficult switch from silent film to the “talkies” (the earliest movies with dialogue). As a movie star, she won fans and lapped up the attention she so craved. Unfortunately, Lupe was covering up a deep struggle with depression that ultimately ended her bright future.
Velez started her career on the stage in Mexico, singing and dancing in Vaudeville before she became a film star in 1929. She had a career many a starlet would kill for, as well as some of the best directors, including Cecil B. DeMille and D. W. Griffith. She held her own against the day’s greatest leading men, including Gary Cooper and John Barrymore. Her movies, such as the hit The Wolf Song won rave reviews and made her a fan favorite.
Beloved by the media for her physical beauty, great fashion, and her fiery personality, Velez lit up stage, screen, and tabloids with her performances and her personal life. Not at all shy, Velez was very happy to talk with the press about all areas of her life, love affairs included.
A social creature, Velez was never single long, and left many broken hearts in her wake. She was often linked to her leading men, including Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable himself. (Rumor has it that it was her willingness to divulge personal details with the press that had Gable running for the hills despite their mutual attraction.)
By 1943 Velez was linked to, Harald Ramond, an Austrian actor. The two seemed to outsiders to be very happy and by September 1944, she was pregnant with his child. Ramond proposed two months later in November. All should have been right with the world. A beautiful couple, soon to be married, with a baby on the way, it was all picture perfect. No one could have predicted just how badly it would all end.
December 14, 1944, mere days after ordering her soon-to-be husband out of their house, Velez took her own life, overdosing in her own home.
She left behind a note as an explanation:
“To Harald, May God forgive you and forgive me too, but I prefer to take my life away and our baby's before I bring him with shame or killing him. - Lupe.”
The back read:
"How could you, Harald, fake such a great love for me and our baby when all the time you didn't want us? I see no other way out for me so goodbye and good luck to you, Love Lupe.”
Ramond protested to the media that he had no idea what his ex-fiancé meant by her last words. He claimed that even though they had broken up, he was still prepared to marry her. Rumors flew around Hollywood about the paternity of the child (maybe it was Gary Cooper’s?) and so-called “friends” rushed to the papers to tell how Lupe would rather die than have an abortion and that Lupe had told them of her secret plan to return to Mexico to have her child in secret. An investigation was made into her death, but no evidence of foul play was ever uncovered.
To this day, Whoopee Lupe’s death baffles and saddens. It makes no sense for a woman of such charisma, charm, and talent, to take her own life. But such is the senseless tragedy of depression. For her fans, she lives on in her films, and to this day, her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is etched in tribute to her lasting legacy in film as one of its earliest and brightest talents.
We are happy to have been able to share with you these stories of some truly remarkable women. Go out and make your life, and your world, remarkable, too!