The “Aha” Moments of 6 Industrious Women Inventors

It should not be surprising to learn that these inventions were made by women because they were the ones who recognized what could make a day of housework easier and more efficient.  They knew the cost of making a household run effectively and were always trying to make ends meet. The reasons behind the inventions may not always have been the most admirable, as in the case of Josephine Cochrane, but all of them made herstory. would like to salute these women and thank them for their contributions – some providing us with ease and efficiency; others giving us a tasty treat and a bit of fun at the end of a full day.

Sybilla Master's invention, c 1715An early American pioneer, Sybilla Masters was the first person to be given a British patent in America and was possibly one of the first female inventors recognized for her inventions. Although she was from a fairly well-to-do family, she watched the young colonist women struggling to clean and cure the corn crops. Finding the process of grinding corn between two heavy stones to make cornmeal to be tedious and difficult, in 1715 she invented a corn pulverizer that pounded the maize into cornmeal. Since patents were not yet being issued in Pennsylvania (one of the new colonies) Sybilla travelled all the way to England to have her machine patented. Also, since patents were not issued to women at the time, it had to be issued under her husband’s name.

While still on her own in England in 1716, Sybilla secured another English patent in her husband’s name. This invention involved a process by which straw and palmetto leaves were formed and stained for the adornment of women’s hats and bonnets.

Josephine CochraneJosephine Cochrane was a fairly wealthy woman who was tired of her servants breaking her prized dinnerware every time they washed the dishes. She wanted a machine that would get the job done faster and with fewer casualties to her dishware. One day Josephine proclaimed in disgust “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself.” She had her automatic dishwasher patented in 1886 and demonstrated her invention at the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair. It was fairly quickly adopted for commercial use and she founded a company to manufacture her invention which later became KitchenAid.  However, it was not until the 1950s that her invention become a popular household appliance, relieving tired housewives of the drudgery of dish washing.

ironing-boardSarah Boone was one of the first African-American women to receive a patent in the U.S. She made her name by inventing the modern ironing board in 1892. It was made of a narrow wooden board that had collapsible legs and a padded cover. It was also designed to be able to be folded and put away in a closet or other area. In her patent application, she wrote that the purpose of her invention was “to produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies’ garments.” Prior to her invention, people resorted to simply using a table or being creative in laying a plank of wood across two chairs or small tables.

ice-cream-freezer-patentOne of the “tastiest” inventions comes from Nancy Johnson, the inventor of the ice cream maker. Ice cream and frozen ice desserts date back centuries and possibly as far back as to 200 BC China. The meaning of the phrase “ice cream” varies from one country to another and phrases such as “frozen custard”, “frozen yogurt”, “sorbet”, “gelato” and others are used to distinguish different varieties and styles. In the United States, Nancy Johnson had a passion for ice cream. In fact, she invented her own machine for making this tasty treat, the same basic model that we use today. Her ice cream maker was “hand” powered by the simple turn—and the many, many more turns—of a handle, which froze ice cream.  After patenting her invention in 1846, she sold the patent to a travelling salesman which started the ice cream revolution.

melitta1908The most “addictive” invention may have come from Melitta Bentz who, in 1908, brought us the drip coffee machine. As a housewife, Melitta found that percolators were prone to over-brewing coffee, espresso-type machines at the time tended to leave grounds in the drink, and linen bag filters were tiresome to clean. She experimented with various solutions but in the end took a simple route. She used an ordinary copper pot, poked a hole in the bottom, and layered it with her son’s notebook paper.  Not a complicated process but it worked and her patent for a “Filter Top Device Lined with Filter Paper” became an instant success. Today, her grandchildren still control the Melitta Group KG with some 3,300 employees in 50 companies.

landlords_gameLast but not least, a little “family” fun was originally invented in 1904 by Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie who designed a board game called The Landlord’s Game. At the time she designed the game Magie believed that this game would show the world as it is hopefully inspire reforms. Thirty-one years later, a man named Charles Darrow, who stole the entire idea from Magie, sold a game called Monopoly to George and Fred Parker. After Monopoly became a hit, the brothers Parker tracked down the elderly Lizzie Magie Phillips and offered her $500 and no royalties. When Parker Brothers offered to produce an unsullied version of The Landlords’ Game, she gladly sold the rights however the board game giant quickly and thoroughly buried it, all the while slipping the name Elizabeth Magie into the memory hole with its fraudulent “history.”

We’ll probably never know about all the women inventors in herstory as they were not always recognized for their contributions.  It could be that credit was taken by others; the patent may have to have been registered in a father’s or husband’s name; or for a number of other dubious reasons.

The stories of such women needs to continually be corrected, written, or made and strives to be the voice of HERstory.


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In Her Own Words : I was forced to become one of his 27 ‘wives’

Evelyn Amony was abducted by the Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) when she was only 12 years old. For nearly three decades, this rebel group has committed a range of atrocities including the abduction of children, rape, killing, maiming and sexual slavery. Today Evelyn is Chair of the Women’s Advocacy Network, comprised of over 400 formerly abducted and war-affected women, many of whom are speaking out and effectively advocating for gender justice in Uganda. In her own words, she tells her story…

Evelyn Amory : Photo courtesy of Theresia Thylin/UN Trust Fund

Evelyn Amory : Photo courtesy of Theresia Thylin/UN Trust Fund

I used to not be able to talk about my experiences in the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] because it made me get these terrible flashbacks. I will never forget, but now I can talk about my experiences.

I was abducted by the LRA when I was only 12 years old. One of the really bad things that happen to young girls in the LRA is that they are forced to have sex with the commanders even though they are not ready for such a relationship. I was forced to stay with the LRA leader Joseph Kony [who together with his top commanders is indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court].

When I was there, I was forced to become one of his 27 “wives”. I gave birth to three children in captivity and the worst thing that happened to me during my 11 years in the LRA was when one of my children went missing in the cross-fire in February 2004. I have searched for my daughter in both Uganda and South Sudan but have been unable to find her and I am unaware of her fate. One year after, during another exchange of fire, I managed to escape with my two other children. Today, I live with my surviving children and have also adopted two of Kony’s other children after their mother died. After I escaped, I stayed at a reception centre and the young children that had lost their mother knew me. When I was about to leave the centre the children started crying and it was painful for me to leave them so I decided to adopt them. Today, I also have two children with my new partner.

Formerly abducted women and their children born in captivity face a lot of stigma and discrimination when we return from captivity. I’m originally from Atiak, a town that was marked by a large massacre.

When I came back, the wife of one of my uncles showed me the graves of all the family members that have been killed.  She looked at me and said, ‘Kony’s children are still moving but our children are all buried’. That made me fear for the security of my children if we were to live in Atiak.

I joined together with women in the same situation to seek justice and reconciliation for war-affected women and our communities. Today, I am the Chair of the Women’s Advocacy Network, a network comprised of over 400 formerly abducted and war-affected women.

One of the achievements of the network is that we have presented a petition seeking the intervention of the Parliament in addressing issues and challenges faced by war-affected women in the Acholi sub-region. Earlier this month, I was there when the Parliament of Uganda debated the petition and thereafter adopted a resolution calling for reparations for war-affected women and other victims of the LRA. I felt so happy, and I was so happy that Members of Parliament across the political spectrum all supported the petition. It was something I had longed for!

The Government has not given anything to us, the formerly abducted women. Many of the men who have left the LRA have been integrated into the army and are receiving a salary but we, the women who were abducted by these men, have not received anything until now.

I hope that the resolution will generate an acknowledgement of the suffering of the women and that the Government will issue an apology. The Women’s Advocacy Network also calls on the Government to provide support to the women affected by war. For me personally, the most important thing would be if the Government could pay the school fees for my children.

As the Chair of the Woman’s Advocacy Network, I now have confidence to continue to speak out and to move on. I went through a lot of pain but I have a feeling that my life will change. I have already reached another level.

As transitional justice measures in Uganda -including the adoption of a transitional justice policy- are still in the making, we, the women formerly abducted by the LRA, have become an important voice in the struggle for gender justice. Every voice matters. We can all contribute as women at the grass-roots are playing our part in overcoming the challenges we continue to face.

Cross-posted from UN Women.

Landmark Resolution : The Women’s Advocacy Network, which is an initiative of the Justice and Reconciliation Project has managed to reach several war-affected communities and succeeded in attracting the attention of the Ugandan Parliament. With support of partners of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women such as the International Center for Transitional Justice, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and other partners like Gulu District Local Government, the Network presented a petition to the local government and subsequently to the national Parliament. Evelyn was present when the Parliament of Uganda debated the petition and on 9 April 2014 the Parliament adopted a landmark resolution calling for the reparations for war-affected women and other victims of the LRA.

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Celebrating My Mom Today and Every Day

Today, dozens of countries around the world are celebrating this Mother’s Day according to their traditions.  Florist shops have run out of roses,  restaurants have been booked weeks in advance, handmade cards have kept children busy in school art classes throughout the week, and fathers were up early this morning to help their children prepare breakfast-in-bed for mom.

With my Mom, Regina

With my Mom, Regina

Today I am celebrating Mother’s Day in Canada by remembering by Mom and the many ways she inspired me to become the woman I am today.

She passed away 5 years ago, this coming week, just several days after the weekend celebrating her life as mother and grandmother or “Babcia” as her grandchildren still call her when speaking of and sharing their memories of her.

She was a formidable lady having gone through war, famine and many other hardships that life threw her way.  I posted a short bio of her life last year, so this year I want to share her qualities and how they influenced myself and my family.

She was a fighter, a survivor and taught me to never give up and to fight for what I believed was right. It’s not always easy to stand-my-ground but she always supported me and I know she’s still there beside me, giving me strength.

She was tough but fair even though I may not have always thought so – especially in my formative years.  We certainly had our battles but we also had our great times and those are the ones that I cherish when I think of her.

She was kind to others and knew the meaning of helping those in need. Having been a war refugee herself she never forgot the helping hands of the International Red Cross and other organizations and individuals that were there for her and her family. Sharing and volunteering is something that she taught me at an early age and which I continue to practice to enrich my life.

She loved her family unconditionally. Her husband, her children and her grandchildren were the lights of her life. She is fondly remembered at every family occasion and we just know that she is there with us sharing in the laughs and the good times.

She was an excellent, self-taught cook and had me “helping” in the kitchen as long as I can remember. Having suffered hunger in her early years, she made sure that we knew that food was to be savoured, appreciated and enjoyed. She always laughed when she spoke of the first meal she cooked as a newlywed – burned pork chops that she slathered with sour cream.  My father just remembered eating it lovingly and swore that the meal was perfectly cooked.

She knew that family was important and, even if someone was not family, they became family.  Whatever the occasion or celebration, there was always a few extra guests around the table. Whether I brought a friend home unexpectedly or I knew that someone was alone for the holidays, my Mom always welcomed them with open arms, found an extra chair, and put another food-laden plate on the table.

Today I celebrate her and the many qualities that made her a wonderful Mom.  Today and every day I thank her for being my rock, my inspiration and my strength.  Every day I miss her, think of her, and remember all the joy she brought and brings to my life.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom…  I love you!

Betty Eitner
Founder, Editor, Blogger

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As Humble a Woman as My Mum

With Mother’s Day just around the corner in my part of the world, Jane Oma of has kindly given me permission to repost this lovely poem she wrote to celebrate her Mum.

holding-hands-mother-and-child2As humble a woman as she was,
as humble was her life we saw,
she gleamed like the star she was,
a life very conscientious she lived,
examples enduring she laid,
stand tall always, she said,
against every adversary,
that way, you don´t end up in shame,
or in wanton misery.

As humble a woman as she was,
as humble was her beginning she said,
her life was a struggle,
but an ultimate seat at the head,
And though she sometimes stumbled,
she learned to always again rise high,
she taught us to always aim beyond the sky,
so at worst, land on the roof,
And to live each day at a time,
with uprightness imbibed in our roots.

Constantly thankful and amazed we are,
as the compassionate fulfilment
of her life transcends time,
confidently certain and assured,
that her creator was her strength,
as she made her life sublime.

As humble a woman as she was,
as humble was the legacy she left,
her ways and wisdom we learnt,
Be kind to everyone you meet,
for we are all one, she would say,
never expect too much from anyone
and be grateful for all you get,
Be honest in all you do, she would say
to yourself above all.

As humble a woman as she was,
your destiny is in your hands, she said,
with determination and hard work,
you can be anything you want to be,
patience will come in handy,
but your peace of mind is worth the wait.
And my daughter, she said,
always keep a smile about,
and a twinkle in your eyes.

As humble a woman as she was,
as humble was her last days,
leaving behind no debts, enemies or foes,
but loving memories of her to stay,
on that heavenly flight that fateful day,
was a great woman in every way,
Deep peace of the quiet earth,
and shinning stars to you, my Mum
As great a woman I hope to be,
A woman as humble as was my Mum.

                                                 Jane Oma

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A Personal Story of Gratitude

“I’ve chosen today to talk about something that really brought it home to me how you can find gratitude in the most unlikely places, where you don’t want to feel grateful at all. Here’s a little story.

Julie Zommers Mum, Barb

Julie Zommers Mum, Barb

My Mum died four years ago. She was the queen in terms of producing pots of lemon butter for her church, to which she was devoted. People loved her, and by God they loved her jars of lemon butter. Mum wore it like a badge of honour. Even in her last stages of Alzheimers, I’d cook up a batch and dispatch it to the church and she was thrilled. I think it was a link to a time where she felt like she mattered.

Two years after she had passed, my son called and said, ‘You know how Nana used to make lemon butter …I thought it would be great to take some over to the Church Spring Fete, do you have her recipe Mum? Then we can take it over, and people will remember her.’  Loving my son right then, even more than I usually do.

But here’s the thing. I had resistance.

  • The fete was in the grounds of the church where I said goodbye to my mother for the last time. Where the big black car took her away for the last time.
  • The fete day was also my daughter’s birthday. She lives in New York. I missed her. Terribly.
  • It also meant that I had to revisit my childhood territory, that incredible childhood home of fun, food and familiarity, if you know what I mean, the sameness that was my life for 50 years.

I was loving what my son wanted, and at the same time felt ill equipped to deal with it. But let’s fast track.

I am sitting in the sunshine, at the fete, sharing a devonshire tea with my son, Rory, and his beautiful partner Mim, and my granddaughter, Audrey. Lemon Butter jars delivered and sitting on nearby table.

We are sitting in the exact spot that the hearse that contained my  mother’s body was located. The choir strikes up, singing something that makes me want to cry.

Audrey climbs onto my lap, puts both her hands onto my face, and says ‘I love you Nana’.

There it is.  It brought me straight back to the present. Did she know? My guess would be that the Universe works in amazing ways, and that love was delivered to me exactly at the time that I needed it.

My point?  No matter how much you are filled with grief, something will come along to make you realise that you have a new thing to be grateful for.

I got into my car and my god, did I sob, but not for the loss of my mother. Something had shifted. Now I felt sheer gratitude of my son who wanted to do this thing, and gratitude that he had the sort of attributes that I think will serve him well in this life, and gratitude for my grand-daughter who somehow knew how to give me what I needed right at that moment in time.

Maybe you’ll relate to this, maybe you won’t.  I just wanted to share this in case it resonates with you.

With love as always,


This post was contributed by About Julie Zommers, Happiness Warrior.  She is a writer and therapist based in Sydney, Australia and believes that everyone deserves to find their light and let it shine.  You can discover more about Julie at

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My Mother’s Saris Are Worth More Than Their Weight in Gold

It was the NPR piece, “Love is Saying ‘Sari'”, that made me reflect on my connection to the sari as well as my own experiences with potential loss and the importance of leaving a legacy.

Rani Varghese and her Mom

Rani Varghese and her Mom

My sister and I sit in my parent’s bedroom as my mom looks through her sari(s), gently touching the fabric and examining the borders of each almost as if she is looking at a collection of dolls, elephants or other knickknacks that someone collects. She sighs about not having anywhere to wear them as she has worked two jobs…days, evenings and weekends…most of her adult life. She finally says to us, matter of fact, this is the sari I want to be buried in.

My dad calls to tell me that he is going to ask my cousin for the number to a lawyer so he and my mom can put together a will. My mother was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer four years ago and I feel incredibly lucky and privileged that she has lived long enough to see me get married, finish my doctoral degree, and meet my little one. I don’t want to think about losing a parent let alone end of life logistics related to what my mother will pass onto my siblings and I.

My thoughts turn to the countless number of saris that she has painstakingly folded and stuffed in a number of places, in a suitcase or bureau. They are stuffed so tightly that, if I pull one out, an endless rainbow of brightly colored sari(s) fall out on the floor – magenta, green, red and yellow. Each of them tell a story… the faded off white wedding sari; the geometric patterned sari that she wore when she first came to the U.S.; and the stiff Kerala sari that one of her brothers bought her.

As a Malayali, born in India but raised in the U.S., I have had an interesting relationship to the sari. In college, it was some sort of cultural badge of honor for my friends and I to know how to properly put on a sari. And if you knew different styles of draping, Gujarati, South Indian or Bengali, then you were a bonafied sari expert.

The sari has also represented some sort of class equalizer. To the naked eye you would not see any clear socioeconomic distinctions between me and my friends or my mother and other aunties. You can always hide a cheap pair of shoes under the endless folds of material.

In  professional or social spaces, I can always count on continual “oohs” and “ahhs” over me if I don a sari. In these moments, I reluctantly play the part of a cultural tour guide talking about bindi and mendhi.

The sari also has a meaning for me related to bodies and body image. I grew up seeing aunties of all sizes and shapes wearing a sari, many times proudly exposing stomach rolls and back fat.

There are many unexpected lessons I have learned from six to nine yards of cloth. As I carefully fold and put away my wedding sari and my manthrakodi in my NYC apartment, I think about my mom. When my mom’s time comes, she will have passed along more to me than she will ever know.


Contributed by Rani Varghese, an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work at Adelphi University in New York, received her MSW at Smith College School for Social Work and her doctoral degree in Social Justice Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Rani identifies as a social justice educator, feminist and mother-academic. She has taught in the fields of Social Work, Education and Women, Gender & Sexuality studies and brings an interdisciplinary lens to her teaching and scholarship.

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March is Women’s History Month – Women in AVIATION

We have all heard of female aviators and their accomplishments:  Harriet Quimby the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license; Amelia Earhart the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; and Bessie Coleman the first African-American (male or female) to earn a pilot’s license.  However, there are many unsung female aviation heroes that lent their flying skills to war efforts in Europe during the First and Second World Wars. has chosen to bring attention to some of these female aviators who flew during wartime or in combat missions in honor of Women’s History Month this year.

marie-marvingt-2Born in France in 1875, Marie Marvingt and her family moved to Metz, at that time part of Germany, in 1880.  When Marie’s mother died in 1889, the 14 year old along with her father and brother moved back to Nancy where she found herself in charge of a household while devouring books by explorers and scientists.

She was encouraged to participate in sports by her father and, it is said, that at the age of 5 she had already swum 4000m in a single day. Marvingt became a world-class athlete who won numerous prizes in swimming, fencing, shooting, ski jumping, speed skating, luge and bobsledding and, in 1899, she earned her driving license.

Her interest in aviation began when she ascended into the skies as a passenger in a free-flight balloon for the first time and on July 19, 1907 she piloted one for the first time. In 1909 she became the first woman to pilot a balloon from Europe to England across the North Sea and English Channel.

Later the same year, Marie experienced her first flight as a passenger in an aeroplane and the next year she piloted and flew solo in an Antoinette monoplane, the first woman to do so. On November 8, 1910 she earned her pilot’s license No. 281 from the Aéro-Club de France – only the third Frenchwoman to be registered.

In her illustrious career, she competed for the Femina Cup (Coupe Femina), proposed the development of fixed-wing aircraft as air ambulances to the French government and, during the start of WWI, she disguised herself as a man and served on the front lines with the 42nd Battalion of Foot Soldiers – until she was discovered and sent home.  She later participated in military operations with the Italian 3rd Regiment of Alpine Troops in the Italian Dolomites at the direct request of Marshal Ferdinand Foch.

In 1915, Marvingt became the first woman in the world to fly combat missions when she became a volunteer pilot flying bombing missions over German-held territory during WWI. She received the Military Cross (Croix de guerre) for her aerial bombing of a German military base in Metz.

Marvingt devoted the remainder of her long life to the concept of aero-medical evacuation, giving more than 3000 conferences and seminars on the subject on at least four continents. She was co-founder of the French organisation Friends of Medical Aviation (Les Amies De L’Aviation Sanitaire)  and one of the organizers behind the success of the First International Congress on Medical Aviation in 1929.

She was incontestably one of the greatest female aviation pioneers who ever lived when she died in 1963 – in total obscurity and poverty – after having enjoyed one of the most brilliant and exceptional careers of any woman in aviation history.

night-witches-thumb-570x360-127220These Soviet pilots did what anyone piloting a plane made of plywood would do when confronted with enemy fire, they ducked.  They were known as the “Night Witches” and these female bomber pilots struggled to earn the respect of their brothers in arms during World War II.

The Night Bomber Regiment was one of three female fight pilot units created by Stalin at the urging of Marina Raskova, “the Soviet Amelia Earhart”. She trained her recruits as pilots, navigators, and ground maintenance crews. When a male general initially complained about being sent girls instead of soldiers they soon proved him wrong. The regiment flew both harassment and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 to the end of the war.

The Soviet Union was the first nation to allow women to fly combat missions which meant that they could return fire. These female pilots not only flew planes but they also dropped bombs.  Every night, approximately 40 planes (each crewed by two women – a pilot and a navigator), would fly eight or more missions. The multiple nightly sorties were necessary because their modified crop-dusters were capable of carrying only two bombs at a time.

The Nazis named the female fighter pilots Nachthexen “Night Witches” because the noise of their flimsy wood and canvas biplanes reminded the Germans of the supposed sound of a witch’s broomstick swishing in the night.  They were loathed, they were feared, and it is said that they flew over 23,000 sorties and dropped 3,000 tons of bombs.

Because their PO-2s were flimsy and flew near the ground, they could often pass undetected by radar. The pilots’ tactic was to fly to within a certain distance of the target, and cut their engines. They would then glide in silently, release their bombs, then restart their engines and fly home.

Nadezhda Popova, one of the Night Witches who passed away in 2013 in Moscow, flew 852 missions. Although she was shot down or forced to land several times, she managed to emerge unharmed. In her memoir she recalled one particularly grueling mission when, after bombing an ammunition dump, she found herself caught in the searchlights: “I manoeuvred and suddenly I saw them switch to another plane that flew after me. Enemy planes took off and shot it down, it caught fire and fell. That was one. Then I turned my head and saw a second plane go down in flames and then a third one lit up the sky like a falling torch. By the time I got back, four of our planes had perished with eight girls in them burned alive … What a nightmare, poor girls, my friends, only yesterday we had slept in the bunks together.”

“I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes,” Ms. Popova said in 2010. “I can still imagine myself as a young girl, up there in my little bomber. And I ask myself, ‘Nadia, how did you do it?’ ”

The women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment were brave fighters and they wore their moniker “Night Witches” as a badge of honor.

ATA 1During the Second World War, the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was a British civilian organisation formed and charged with ferrying military aircraft between factories, assembly plants, transatlantic delivery points, maintenance bases, and active service squadrons and airfields.  It also flew service personnel on urgent duty from place to place and performed some air ambulance work.

The ATA recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for the Royal Air Force (RAF) by reason of age or fitness. The ATA also took pilots from neutral countries and, most notably, female pilots. These women pilots were initially restricted to non-combat aircraft but they were eventually permitted to fly virtually every type of plane flown by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, including Spitfires, Lancasters, Hurricanes, and the 4-engined heavy bombers.

One of the many notable achievements for these women was that they received the same pay as men of equal rank in the ATA starting in 1943. This was the first time that the British government gave its blessing to equal pay for equal work within an organisation under its control.  It should be noted that at the same time American woman flying with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were receiving as little as 65 per cent of the pay given to their male colleagues.

Female pilots had to fight hard to prove themselves in a chauvinistic climate. In order to join the ATA, the females needed a minimum of 500 hours solo flying whereas men could join with only 250 hours. They had to fly the fighter aircraft with limited training and were often looked down upon by the male RAF pilots.  However neither this nor the dangers they faced detered the women of the ATA.

Maureen Dunlop de Popp joined the ATA in 1942 and became one of a small group of female pilots based at White Waltham in Berkshire who were trained to fly 38 types of aircraft.  She later recalled how she had to make an emergency landing when flying a Spitfire as the cockpit canopy blew off after takeoff. Another time she had to land in a field after the engine of her Argus aircraft failed in the air. Dunlop loved being behind the controls of a plane and while she clocked up more than 800 hours during her time with the ATA, she lamented the fact that women were not allowed to fly in combat.

Jadwiga Piłsudska, the younger daughter of Poland’s Chief of State Marshal Józef Piłsudski, fled to Britain in 1939 when the war broke out in Poland and went on to join the ATA. With Anna Leska and the Lithuanian-Pole Stefania Wojtulanis she was one of several Polish women who served with the ATA.

Helen Harrison-Bristol’s experience was directed towards pilot training in Canada when, in 1942, she was accepted as the first Canadian woman ferry pilot to serve with the ATA. The following year she co-piloted a Mitchell bomber across the North Atlantic from Montreal, Canada to Scotland, and until 1944, she delivered military aircraft within the United Kingdom.

After being told about the ATA by her friend and fellow pilot Violet Milstead, Marion Alice Powell applied, was tested in Montreal, and was admitted to the ATA.  Both Orr and Milstead moved to England in the summer of 1942. Orr’s first flight for the ATA was on June 2nd, 1943 and her favorite aircraft was the Spitfire, which she considered “the most beautiful plane ever built.”

Jacqueline Cochran, a pioneer female aviator, tried to form an American auxiliary with female pilots, but with little interest from U.S. authorities she recruited 24 other women pilots to sail to the United Kingdom and join the ATA in 1942.

Ann Wood-Kelly was one of the pilots that joined the ATA with Jacqueline Cochran. During her time as a ferry pilot she flew more than 900 missions in 75 different types of aircraft ranging from the single-engine Supermarine Spitfire fighter to the four-engine Avro Lancaster heavy bomber.

The women of the ATA were courageous women that, although not flying combat roles, faced many dangers as often they had to fly in challenging weather conditions or under the cover of night. Some of them paid the cost of war with their lives including Amy Johnson who set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s and flew in WWII as a part of the ATA. She died in 1941 during a ferry flight from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington in the UK after baling out in cloud over the Thames estuary.


If you enjoyed the HERstory of these women you may also like to read these previous posts:

Remembering the Inspiring Women of World War I
Inspiring Women of WW I : The Hello Girls
Inspiring Women of World War I : Nurse and Poet Eva Dobell

You may also like to read other stories in this series.

March is Women’s History Month – Part 3 – Women in WAR
March is Women’s History Month – Part 2 – Women in ART
March is Women’s History Month – Part 1 – Women in STEM

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March is Women’s History Month – Women in WAR

Many of the women who served as spies in wartime took their secrets to the grave and were known only to their contacts. They came from all backgrounds and, while some served in the military, others were journalists, actresses and ordinary people doing extraordinary work. They demonstrated courage and inventiveness and helped alter the course of war with their work.

If one were asked to name a female spy Mata Hari would probably come to mind.  Although her real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle McLeod, that is most likely a name that no one knows.  The name Mata Hari became synonymous with female spy and her legacy portrayed women spies as seductive temptresses who would do anything to extract information from the enemy.

The truth about wartime female spies is that they were women who risked everything while leading double lives in dangerous situations.  It has been said that their successes stemmed from their emotional intelligence, their nurturing instinct and their listening skills. However, their gumption, bravery and patriotism should also be highlighted. has chosen to bring notice to the following female wartime heroes in honor of Women’s History Month this year.

Mary Elizabeth BowserIt is not known exactly when Mary Elizabeth Bowser was born but her memorial stone shows 1840.  History tells us that she became a freed slave and worked with her mistress Elizabeth Van Lews, also a spy, during the U.S. Civil War. When the war broke out, the Van Lews family brought food, medicine and books to Union soldiers at the nearby Libby Prison in Virginia while Mary conveyed messages between the prisoners and Union officials and helped prisoners escape. Mary relied on an informal network of women and men, white and black, all drawn from the clandestine Unionist community to help her.

At some point during the first couple years of the war, Mary succeeded, with Miss Van Lew’s assistance, in getting a position as a servant in the Confederate White House. Under this humble and overlooked guise, Mary became privy to information intended only for Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The Confederate leadership felt no need to guard their conversations in the confines of the residence and no effort was made to keep Mary from seeing secret documents since it was assumed that she was illiterate. Due to this false assumption, she was able to gather sensitive information at all times and Mary Bowser was always on the lookout for information. It was reported that “she had a photographic mind. Everything she saw on the Rebel President’s desk she could repeat word for word.”

As with most spies during war, all records of Mary’s work were destroyed by the War Department to protect her from the retaliation she would have faced if the extent of her service were uncovered. Because of this, very few details are known about her specific activities during the war.

In 1995, Mary was honored by the U.S. Government for her efforts in spying and was inducted in the “U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame”.

Mabel Elliott (courtesy Royal Society of Chemistry)

Mabel Elliott (courtesy Royal Society of Chemistry)

Mabel Beatrice Elliott was born in the U.K. in 1885.  After attending a private school in London, she studied at a German convent school in Holland where she acquired a fluent knowledge of German and Dutch.  When WWI broke out in 1914, she was working as a foreign correspondent.  She immediately offered her services to a newly established branch of the British War Office known as Postal Censorship.

It was not long before she was promoted to Deputy Assistant Censor and, while in charge of a room of examiners, her keen observation skills led her to suspect that an apparently innocent letter contained invisible writing. On applying heat to the paper she discovered the secret message of a German spy. Upon discovery of his activities, he hanged himself in Brixton prison, in England, leaving a confession that he was a German officer.  Shortly afterward she again discovered secret messages in the letters of two more German agents and this evidence led to their conviction.

Following the war, she worked for 15 years for the Royal Society of Chemistry as indexer and business manager for The Analyst, a scientific publication for analytical chemists published by the society.

At the outbreak of WWII, Mabel once again threw herself into war work and played a prominent part in the activities of the W.V.S. (Women’s Voluntary Service) acting as an interpreter. She also passed the British Red Cross Society examinations and threw all her spare time into nursing.  Unfortunately she did not live to see the end of WWII as she passed away in January 1944 having dedicated herself to the war effort.

“Although her vigilance may have prevented an invasion by the Kaiser, she was never recognized for the coup in her own lifetime,” said a news release from the London-based Royal Society of Chemistry recognizing her contributions on Armistice Day (a.k.a. Remembrance Day) in 2011.

Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake

Born in 1912, Nancy Grace Augusta Wake ran away from her home in Sydney, Australia to work as a nurse.  When she inherited a modest sum of money from an auntie, she travelled to New York and then to London where she became a journalist.  By the 1930s, she was working in Paris & other European cities while personally witnessing the rise of the Nazi movement.

She was living in Marseille when Germany invaded. After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined an escape network to assist military personnel stranded in France. Her life was in constant danger, with the Germans tapping her phone and intercepting her mail. The Gestapo named her the “White Mouse” for her ability to elude capture.

By 1943, Nancy Wake was the Gestapo’s most wanted person, with a 5 million-franc price on her head. When the escape network was betrayed that same year she decided to flee and succeeded, on her sixth attempt, in crossing the Pyrenees to Spain.

Upon reaching Britain, Wake joined the S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) and, on a dark night in April 1944, she was parachuted into the French province of Auvergne.  There she became a liaison between London and the local French Resistance fighters. Her duties included allocating arms and equipment that were parachuted in and minding the group’s finances. She became instrumental in recruiting more members and making the maquis groups into a formidable force, roughly 7,500 strong. She also led attacks on German installations and the local Gestapo Head Quarters.

By the time Nancy Wake passed in August 2011, aged 98, her life had been immortalized in her book “The White Mouse” and several other biographical books along with a movie and a British television series.

If you enjoyed the HERstory of these women you may also like to read other stories in this series.

March is Women’s History Month – Part 4 – Women in AVIATION
March is Women’s History Month – Part 2 – Women in ART
March is Women’s History Month – Part 1 – Women in STEM

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March is Women’s History Month – Women in ART

Female artists have been making art throughout history however their work has not always been as well acknowledged or received as that of their male counterparts.  They faced challenges due to gender bias in training, travel, selling their work and gaining recognition.

Women artists have also often been mischaracterized in historical accounts, both unintentionally and intentionally.  Scarcity of biographical information, anonymity, and naming conventions – whereby women take their husband’s last name – have been contributing factors.  False attribution has also been intentionally practiced and art, made by women, has been reassigned to male artists for unscrupulous reasons. has chosen to honor the following three female artists during Women’s History Month this year.

"Sisters" by Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau

“Sisters” by Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau

Born in 1837 in the United States, Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau was a great artist in her own right however her vast collection of work is often accused of too closely resembling that of her husband’s, the famous William Bouguereau.

Elizabeth was among the first wave of Americans who sought art training in Paris after the Civil War. She arrived in Paris in 1864 and began studying contemporary and old-master paintings. While Paris beckoned all artists, women were still banned from studying at the École des Beaux-Arts.  Undaunted by these discriminatory practices, Bouguereau enrolled in private classes.

She was one of the first American women to exhibit at the Paris salon along with Mary Cassatt in 1868 and  Bouguereau’s paintings were accepted in 25 Paris salons. By the late 1870’s, she was studying with William-Adolphe Bouguereau whose work, she acknowledged,  influenced hers and to whom she was eventually married in the late 1800s.  She made her own way by producing works in a monumental style most often associated with male artists and, in 1889, she won a Bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle.

Elizabeth lived through two wars in France. During the Franco-Prussian War she acted as reporter for her journalist friends in America.  During World War I, in spite of her advanced age and state of health, she did all she could to help American soldiers.

She passed away in 1922 in Paris, where she had lived most of her life, leaving a stunning body of works which express her unique voice and give her work a degree of separation.

"Kispiox Village" by Emily Carr

“Kispiox Village” by Emily Carr

Emily Carr has always been closely associated with Canada’s “Group of Seven” however she was never an official member of this artists group composed entirely of Canadian male artists.

Born in Canada in 1871, Emily was the second youngest of nine children and, although her father encouraged her artistic inclinations, she did not start to pursue her career until after her parents’ deaths.  In the late 1800s, she attended the San Francisco Art Institute for two years and later travelled to London for further studies.

Upon returning to Canada in 1905, Carr took a teaching position at a “Ladies Art Club” but was promptly dismissed as the students did not take well to her behavior and boycotted her courses. She had no qualms about smoking and cursing her students out when she felt the need.

She continued her studies in France where she developed a more vibrant color pallet and, of the three grandes dames of modern painting in the Americas (which included Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo), Carr was the earliest and the first to have solo exhibitions in 1912 and 1913.

In 1927 she was invited to participate in an exhibition of West Coast Art in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, where she first met with the Group of Seven.  The success of this trip was a further catalyst in Carr’s prolific career.  Upon her return to the West coast, she painted Aboriginal studies until 1931 and then took the themes of the forests and coastal skies as her principal theme.

After suffering a heart attack in 1937, Carr devoted much of her time to writing and her first book “Klee Wyck” won the Governor General’s award in 1942.

Since her death in 1945, Carr’s ties to the Group of Seven have become secure in the popular imagination and often in art historical contexts as well.

From the "Altarpiece" series by Hilma af Klint

From “Altarpiece” series by Hilma af Klint

Hilma af Klint was a Swedish artist whose life and work have may not yet received the recognition they deserve.  She was a mystic whose paintings were amongst the first abstract art and she belonged to a group called “The Five”.  Although she exhibited her early, representational works, she refused to show her abstract body of work during her lifetime.

In addition to the difficulties women faced in gaining recognition in an art world defined largely by men and her connections to the occult, modern art is dependent on its marketplace.   Having not exhibited or sold any of her abstract works during her lifetime, and for so many years afterward, contributed to her obscurity.

Born in 1862, Hilma spent summers with her family at their farm and came into contact with nature at an early stage in her life which was to be an inspiration in her work. When she showed an early ability in visual art, the family moved to Stockholm where Hilma studied at the Academy of Fine Arts for five years.

It was there that she met Anna Cassel, the first of the four women with whom she later worked with in “The Five” (a circle of women who shared her belief in the importance of trying to make contact with the so-called ‘high masters’ – often by way of séances). When her younger sister died in 1880, the spiritual dimension of her life began to develop.

Through her work with the group, af Klint created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896. When she painted, she believed that a higher consciousness was speaking through her. Her more conventional painting became the source of her financial income while the ‘life’s work’ remained a quite separate practice.

When she passed away in 1944, at the age of 81, she left more than 1,000 paintings, watercolours and sketches.  In her will, she had stipulated that these ground-breaking works must not be shown publicly until 20 years after her death. She was convinced that only then would the world be ready to understand their significance.

40-plus years were to pass before inklings of her vast work began to reach public consciousness, beginning with the 1987  landmark exhibition in Los Angeles “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985” and the accompanying book.

Hilma af Klint was an innovator of 20th-century abstract art, one who worked with abstract imagery as early as 1906, arguably several years before her male contemporaries such as Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich.

If you enjoyed the HERstory of these women you may also like to read other stories in this series.

March is Women’s History Month – Part 4 – Women in AVIATION
March is Women’s History Month – Part 3 – Women in WAR
March is Women’s History Month – Part 1 – Women in STEM

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March is Women’s History Month – Women in STEM

History has not always been kind to women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  Some women , like Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper, were recognized for their phenomenal work during their lifetimes.  However, many women have passed long days and nights in noxious laboratories only to see the credit awarded to others. Many others have spent years gathering and compiling heaps of data only to see their work obscured by a famous mentor. has chosen to honor the following three women in STEM for Women’s History Month this year.

Nettie Maria StevensNettie Maria Stevens was an early American geneticist and one of the first researchers to describe that an organism’s sex was dictated by its chromosomes rather than environmental or other factors.

Born in 1861 in Vermont, Nettie Stevens received her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and continued at the college as a researcher studying sex determination. She was the first to recognize that females have two large sex chromosomes.

Nettie, unfortunately, fell victim to a phenomenon known as the Matilda Effect which is the repression or denial of the contributions of female researchers to science. Thomas Hunt Morgan, a prominent geneticist at the time, was credited with discovering the genetic basis for sex determination as he was the first to write a genetics textbook and Stevens’ name was not associated with the discovery.

Morgan was later credited with the Nobel Prize for Nettie’s hard work. To add insult to injury, he later posted an article in the journal Science saying that Stevens acted as more of a technician than an actual scientist throughout the whole experiment, though this was found to be quite untrue.

Her scientific career started late, and ended much too soon when she died of breast cancer on May 4, 1912. However, in her relatively short life, she had managed to contribute more to her field than many scientists have done with much longer careers.

Irène Joliot-CurieMarie Skłodowska-Curie, who conducted pioneered research on radioactivity, was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person (and only woman) to win twice.  However how many are aware that her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie, jointly with her husband, was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity.

Irène was born in Pars, in 1897, when her parents were making their discoveries.  Her whole life was dedicated to her studies though they were interrupted by World War I when she was sent to the countryside for safety.  After the war she returned to Paris and, as she neared the end of her doctorate in 1924, she also started teaching precise laboratory techniques required for radiochemical research where she met her future husband (& collaborator) Frédéric Joliot. In 1934, building on the work of her parents, they made the discovery that sealed their place in scientific history.

In 1956 Irène Joliot-Curie was admitted to the Curie hospital in Paris, where she died on 17 March at the age of 58 from leukemia which was brought on my years of exposure to radioactive materials.

Her legacy continues with her daughter Hélène Langevin-Joliot who is a nuclear physicist and professor at the University of Paris and her son, Pierre Joliot who is a biochemist at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

Wangari Muta MaathaiWangari Muta Maathai was born in the village of Ihithe in the central highlands of the colony of Kenya on 1 April 1940. In addition to being the first woman in central or eastern Africa to hold a Ph.D., the first woman head of a university department in Kenya and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt movement in Kenya in 1977.

She started her primary education at the age of eight and was able to pursue a higher education, a rarity for girls in rural areas of Kenya, when she was chosen for a special program to attend school in the United States as the end of East African colonialism was nearing. There she majored in biology and continued on to receive her M.Sc in biological sciences.

When she returned to Kenya, Wangari Maathai worked in veterinary medicine research at the University of Nairobi, and despite the skepticism and even opposition of the male students and faculty, was able to earn a Ph.D. Working her way up through the ranks, she became head of the veterinary medicine faculty, a first for a woman at any department at that university.

In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. Over the next decades Wangari Maathai became an environmental activist in Kenya where she campaigned against deforestation and was arrested numerous times by the government.

In 2002, she was elected to Parliament and named as Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife in January 2003.  Professor Wangari Maathai succumbed to cancer in 2011 however her legacy, the Green Belt Movement, lives on.

If you enjoyed the HERstory of these women you may also like to read other stories in this series.

March is Women’s History Month – Part 4 – Women in AVIATION
March is Women’s History Month – Part 3 – Women in WAR
March is Women’s History Month – Part 2 – Women in ART

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