American history is full of women who have been long forgotten. Some of these women changed the course of history, some did things that others thought women couldn’t or shouldn’t do, and there were women who simply decided that it was time to take their place in history by doing what the men have been doing all along.
Each story is different, but the majority of these women’s stories begin during a major war when the men needed help and society was low on available workers.
10. Received The Congressional Medal Of Honor
She wore pants, liked to wear a top hat, and kept her hair short. This was scandalous behavior back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but Dr. Mary Edwards Walker did not care. In fact, she had more than earned the right to dress and look however she liked.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Dr. Walker wanted to actively help the Union soldiers. Having graduated medical school, she applied to become a U.S. Army surgeon, but was turned down because she was a woman. Instead, she was offered a volunteer nursing position. She accepted, but hated the work. She wanted to be on the field where she could provide the most help to injured soldiers.
In 1862, Dr. Walker got her wish and was allowed to become a volunteer (unpaid) surgeon. She cared for the wounded on the battle fields, wearing a short-length skirt and pants, until 1864 when she was taken prisoner by the Confederates.
For four months, Dr. Walker was kept imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia, until she was handed back to the Union in exchange for a Confederate surgeon. However, as soon as she was released she went back to work. This time, she was sent to work in a women’s prison and later she worked in an orphanage.
After the Civil War was over, Dr. Mary Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor. In 1917, her Medal of Honor was rescinded because she was not officially military personnel.
Dr. Walker refused to return the medal. Instead, she wore it proudly every day until her death in 1919.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter reinstated her Congressional Medal of Honor and, to this day, she is the only woman to have ever received the honor.
9. Doing Her Bit
It was 1916 and the United States was preparing to join its allies in the Great War (WWI). Uncle Sam needed young, healthy men to enlist, and what better way to get the young men worked up than to bring out a pretty lady?
Edna Payne, who was 20-years-old at the time, volunteered for duty. She rented a desk, put a marine cap on her head, and stood by a recruiting poster. She established her own recruiting office in New York City and was said to have enlisted more men than her male counterparts.
She was labeled the country’s first woman recruiter, although she never received any income for her work.
8. First Woman In Congress
When Jeannette Rankin marched for the Woman’s Cause, wearing her yellow ribbon and chanting “Votes for Women” back in September of 1914, no was thinking that there would be a day when this same woman would become the country’s first female Congress member.
Two years later, in 1916, Rankin, registered Republican, was elected to Congress by the voters of Montana. Her infamous words were, “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.”
Rankin took her job seriously. She was, first and foremost, a strong supporter of equal rights for women. She was also a pacifist and had voted against the U.S. entering WWI. In her own words, “If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race.”
Described as a Progressive, Rankin faced constant sexism from both the Democrats and the Republicans. In newspapers, she was described as appearing to be a “mature bride” and, when she stood against going to war, she was labeled a “crying schoolgirl.”
During Rankin’s second run in 1918, she decided to run for a Senate seat. There were rumors that Republicans were attempting to bribe her not to run and, without the backing of the Republican Party, she had to run on a third party ticket. While she narrowly lost the race, she was not overlooked. According to Democratic Senator Thomas Walsh, “If Miss R. had any party to back her, she would be dangerous.”
Twenty-two years later, Rankin ran for Congress again and won.
7. What Do You Call A Lady Cop?
As World War I raged on in 1918 and men served their country across the sea, the women stepped up and took their places among society. They stepped into jobs that were normally reserved for men, and discovered that they had as much ability to perform these jobs as their male counterparts.
When Captain E.H. King of the Army Medical Corps. was sent abroad, his wife, Leola N. King, became the first female traffic cop in the United States. She was assigned a busy street corner in Washington, D.C. and was an instant hit across the country.
Newspaper reporters joked about what to call her. Was she a “coppette” or a “copperess?” At least she looked “pretty nifty” in her uniform.
But that is where the jokes ended. After all, the woman wore “one of the biggest revolvers” they ever saw, and no one was prepared to test her aim.
6. Swam The Golden Gate Strait
In 1922, a West Virginia newspaper joked that “pushing a wife into the river to drown your troubles is becoming a lost art” simply because women had proven themselves to be rather good swimmers.
Take, for instance, Hazel Bess Laugenour. On August 19, 1911, she became the first woman to swim across the Golden Gate Strait. Using the left side stroke, she made it across in one hour and twenty-eight minutes.
Even before Laugenour swam across the Strait, men were admitting that women were fairly good swimmers. In a newspaper article from 1890, it was claimed that women were good swimmers because their bones were lighter than mens and they had a natural buoyancy because of their fat.
However, in 1916, women were being told that they should avoid swimming altogether. There was “proof” that swimming made skinny women fat and the stout woman even stouter.
In spite of all the nonsense being published about women swimmers, Laugenour wanted to become the first woman to swim the English Channel. Unfortunately, World War I broke out and she turned, instead, to making movies.
5. A Bitter Divorce
While divorce was rare in the early 1900s, it was also a very public affair. Anyone who appeared before a judge requesting a divorce from his or her spouse could expect to have the news printed in the local newspaper by the next day. There was no such thing as privacy and everyone wanted to know who did what and with whom.
However, in 1914, something rather odd happened in the world of divorce news. Mrs. George Deimer became the first American woman to pay alimony.
As the story goes, Mrs. Deimer was married to an oil operator and contractor. She, too, must have enjoyed a working career because she hired a telegrapher as a business agent.
As the couple worked and accrued wealth, the husband became jealous and thought that his wife was far too intimate with the telegrapher. She, in turn, filed for divorce. In the ugly fashion of divorce, the husband filed a claim for alimony.
When all was said and done, the divorce was granted, Mrs. Deimer was given custody of their two children, and Mr. Deimer was awarded an alimony payment of $3,000.
4. First In The Navy
It was 1917 and the Germans were busy attacking American ships at sea. At home in the United States, young men were enlisting to join the war efforts and defeat Germany. Women also wanted to fulfill their patriotic duty and help the Allies defeat the Kaiser.
The U.S. Navy needed more enlistments and soon became the first branch in the military to allow women to enlist as something other than a nurse. The first woman to enlist was Loretta Walsh, age twenty. She was a yeoman and was given the same pay as her male counterparts.
Sadly enough, Walsh was a victim of the flu pandemic in 1918. While she survived the initial flu, she never fully recovered from its effects on her health and she passed away at the age of 29 in 1925.
3. Ambulance Surgeon
Dr. Mary Crawford began her amazing career in 1908 when she became Brooklyn’s first female ambulance surgeon. At that time, ambulances were drawn by horses and transported patients to the hospital as the ambulance surgeon worked to keep the patient alive.
At the start of World War I, well before the United States joined the war effort, Dr. Mary Crawford traveled to France and joined the American Ambulance Hospital. There she became the area’s first female ambulance surgeon, and operated on wounded soldiers wherever she was needed.
After ten months serving in France, she returned to New York where she raised money for French hospitals. According to one report, Dr. Crawford called Paris “one great convalescent hospital congested with wounded men.” She was determined to help the men and victims of the war in any way she could.
From 1919 to 1949, she was the medical director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. She retired and passed away in 1972 at the age of 88.
2. No Side Saddle For Her
There was no doubt in Alberta Claire’s mind that women should have the right to vote. Incidentally, she also believed that women should ride their horses like the men did and not side saddle.
To prove her point, Claire got on her horse, Bud, called to her dog, Mickey, and together they travelled across the U.S., from San Francisco in 1911 to New York in 1912. When she reached New York City, she met with Teddy Roosevelt who lavished praise on her for being the first woman to travel alone on horseback across the U.S.
Claire originally left for her great adventure with just $2 in her pocket, the clothes she wore, and a firearm. Being a cowgirl from Wyoming, she was good with a gun, but was able to rely on her domestic skills when it came to finding odd jobs across the country.
Local newspapers would cover her arrival in each town, reporting on her adventures. Sometimes she was cheered on, but other times the townspeople would jeer at her and tell her that she would never make it to New York City. Not only did she prove the naysayers wrong, but, after reaching New York City, she turned around and rode her horse all the way back to her home in Wyoming.
1. Her Dad Did Not Want Her To Become A Doctor
It might have been a joke on her father’s part, but Kellogg followed his jest and studied drawing in Washington. She then studied for another year at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Afterwards, she found a job, but it only paid her $5 a week.
Not one to give up, she went to Paris to continue her studies and was allowed to work alongside the men. When she applied to the Ecole de Beaux Arts, she was turned down because no woman had ever applied to their school before.
Kellogg returned to the United States and, instead of feeling defeated, she became “the pioneer woman architect” in the country. In 1901, she set up her own office and designed buildings across the U.S., such as the Woman’s Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.