Tag Archives: history

9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About

March is Women’s History Month so it’s the perfect time to celebrate the women in your life, and the ones who’ve come before you. We’ve all learned about our fearless, feminist ancestors like Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, and Julia Child. Yes, Julia Child! Before she was known for her cooking, she worked as an intelligence officer in the OSS, and she spoke four languages! She was a total badass.

Still there are many whose names we don’t know by heart, yet reap the benefits of their hard work and determination every day. So prepare for some speed dating y’all, cause it’s time to meet 9 women who made history you probably didn’t know about.

9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About

victoria_woodhull1. Victoria Woodhull

It amazes me we still ask the question “Is America ready for a woman president?” Um, yes. And we’ve been trying to elect one since 1870. Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president, and she did so before having the right to vote herself. In fact she spent election day in jail. Campaigning under the Equal Rights Party, her running mate was none other than abolitionist Frederick Douglass. She was also very outspoken on the issue of “free love,” which back then referred to a woman’s right to divorce her husband. No one knows how many votes Victoria received because the bastards running the patriarchy refused to count them.

henrietta_lacks_1920-19512. Henrietta Lacks

Gaining popularity and recognition thanks to a book by Rebecca Skloot, Henrietta Lacks is the reason we have most vaccines and medical advancements today. At the time of her death in 1951, medical consent forms didn’t exist, so without her permission or that of her family, doctors took samples of Henrietta’s cells. The healthcare industry was desperately trying to find cures for diseases but keeping test cells alive was impossible. Until Henrietta. The cells from Henrietta’s body, known as HeLa cells, were the first ever to be kept alive and grown, resulting in great medical advancements including the polio vaccine.

f7553b57e46042a33. Elizabeth Smith Miller

Did you put pants on today? Yoga pants and jeggings count! Well you have Elizabeth Smith Miller to thank for that. She was the first woman to wear pants in 1851. Finding the long skirts and dresses of the 1800’s too confining for her hobbies, she created an early version of the skort. At least that’s what I’m calling it. Technically she wore pantaloons with a wrap skirt over them, but we all know it was a skort, or at the very least a skant.

61964-004-d4cdcf034. Sarah Josepha Buell Hale

Think you know the story of the first Thanksgiving? Think again. Thanksgiving, as a national holiday, wasn’t celebrated until 1863, over 240 years after the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians held what we consider the first Thanksgiving. Wanting to unite our war torn country, Sarah wrote to the president and members of congress every year for 17 years asking for a national day of gratitude. In November of 1863, President Lincoln announced the first national day of giving thanks, done so at Sarah’s subtle nudging.

mte4mdazndewmdyxmtk4odyy5. Pauli Murray

Pursuing higher education in the 1930’s and 40’s when women were often barred from many colleges because of their gender, Pauli Murray became the first African-American woman to earn a graduate degree from Yale University and went on to become a civil rights lawyer and feminist. She is the co-founder of NOW (National Organization of Women) which still seeks to address issues of gender equality and women’s rights. In 1977, she also became the first black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.

220px-patsy_mink_1970s6. Patsy Takemoto Mink

Patsy grew up  watching and experiencing racism against Japanese Americans following WWII. She was determined to better the lives of all people regardless of their race or gender or education level. She studied medicine and law and was an active political figure in Hawaii before it was an official U.S. state. In 1964, she became the first Asian American woman elected to the House of Representatives. Patsy is most widely known for the passing of Title IX, or the Equal Opportunity in Education Act, which she helped author. The act prohibits gender discrimination in any federally funded schools and largely opened up opportunities for women in athletics.

dix-dorothea-loc7. Dorothea Dix

Dorothea was born in 1802, and at the age of 14 she started teaching. A job in a women’s prison led Dorothea to start researching the care of the mentally ill in hospitals and penitentiaries. The documentation she presented to legislative figures allowed for larger budget allocations that improved conditions in the institutions as well as built new ones. Her diligent work improved or founded over 30 hospitals for the mentally ill. She was appointed Superintendent of U.S. Army Nurses in 1861.

ada-left-and-minna-everleigh-c-19058. Ada and Minna Everleigh

The Everleigh sisters, Ada and Minna, are some of Chicago’s most notorious historical figures. During the late 1800’s, they opened up one of the finest brothels in the country, featuring a gold piano, right on Dearborn St. Before you sneer at their historical achievement, you should know how they changed the game. At a time when women’s only opportunities outside the home were teaching or prostitution, if you had to get a job, your choices were limited. And many women were actually getting drugged and kidnapped, forced into the sex industry with violence. Ada and Minna’s “butterflies” were kept in the lap of luxury with fancy clothes, education, and 3 square meals a day. As for their patrons, the Everleigh sisters were also great businesswomen who actually demanded proof of their client’s bank accounts before entrance and tolerated zero violence in their establishment.

lillian_moller_gilbreth9. Lillian Gilbreth

Lillian is the queen of professional women. Not only did she raise 12 children, she became the first female inducted into the Society of Industrial Engineers. She earned a degree in psychology and spent years working as a business consultant for top clients like Macy’s, General Electric, and even the President of the United States. You’re probably familiar with some of her inventions such as the shelves on refrigerator doors and the foot pedal on garbage cans.


So there you have it. Nine talented women who made history, and often aren’t recognized. Happy Women’s History Month!

A Time For Gratitude

Reblogged from Starting With Some Gratitude:

With Thanksgiving approaching, I thought I’d share one of my favorite blog posts from the past about gratitude and family.


This holiday is always special to me and my family because we’ve tracked our ancestry back to two of the pilgrims that crossed over on the Mayflower. John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley. John Howland came from England as an indentured servant to John Carver, one of the Leiden Separatists (AKA: pilgrim). John Carver was Plymouth colony’s first Governor and the first person to sign the Mayflower Compact, which he wrote.

Me, standing in front of the Mayflower II - an exact replica of the original 1600's ship

But John Carver and his family did not survive the first winter in the new world. In fact, most of the original passengers on the Mayflower did not survive that first winter. My 17th Great Grandfather, John Howland, who was in his 20′s at the time, now found himself a land owner and became a prominent member of the community. He would later become quite a reputable fur trader, working with Native Americans along the coast of Maine, and ending his days as a farmer in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth was only a teenager when she made the voyage across the Atlantic with her parents. Her parents did not survive the first winter either.

Eventually, John and Elizabeth married in the new world, and over their life together, gave birth to 10 children! What is so remarkable about their story is that they all survived! The Howland line is the most common bloodline for pilgrim descendants to belong to because it was so rare that these people lived as long as they did. Elizabeth was in her 90′s when she passed!

Me standing in front of the Jabez Howland house in Plymouth, MA - one of only two houses still standing where a pilgrim (John and Elizabeth) actually lived.

I am fortunate in many ways. I’m fortunate that I know where my people come from. I know their story, or at least as much as I can know. And I know we are survivors. I’m also fortunate to have visited the land and place where they walked. The first time in 2010 with Joe, who was patient and understanding with me while I took photos of everything and felt like I was walking in a really good dream. The second time in 2013 when I took my parents to tour Plymouth and watched my mom have the same journey I did three years ago.

Mom and Pop outside Plimoth Plantation

So Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday for me. It’s a reminder of who we are and what we’ve been through. What we can endure, with hard work and family, in order to achieve our dreams. It’s a reminder to change for the better by learning from others and seeking understanding more than being right.

This month, I’d like to focus on thanksgiving. I’ve kept a journal since I was 13, but for the last few years I’ve turned it into more of a gratitude journal. At the end of each entry, I write five specific things I’m grateful for.


Here’s what I’m most grateful for today…

  1. My family. I’ve had a year with an immense high (my marriage) and an extreme low (the passing of my brother in law), and through both events my family rallied together and supported one another with love, patience, and grace.
  2. My spouse – because he lets me ignore him to focus on writing this month and supports my dream of being a published author.
  3. Tacos. Joe made them and they were delicious.
  4. Writing friends. For the many critique groups, write-ins, and classes I’ve been able to attend this month.
  5. Coffee. And blankets. (it’s cold outside)

What are you thankful for today?


for more Thanksgiving stories to impress your family at the dinner table,
check out my other Thanksgiving posts!

The First Thanksgiving: It Happened in 1863

The One That Fell Off the Boat

The Baby That Was Born on the Mayflower

Are You Manly Enough to Wear Pom-Poms on Your Shoes?

By Deanne M. Schultz, @DMSwriter


Now that Jess is gone for a couple weeks, it’s a good time to talk about pom-poms. Specifically the kind worn on the ends of shoes. If your grandma knitted her own slippers, she may have stuck pom-poms on the toes just for a sassy affectation, happy about the way they bobbled around as she did her housework.

For those of you who don’t know, Joe and Jess are on their honeymoon in Greece, and if they hit the right part of Athens, they’ll see men wearing pom-poms on their shoes. These guys goose-step around, too, which only adds to their allure. Thankfully there’s no ouzo involved.

When we were in Athens a few years ago, we spotted these guys at Syntagma Square. Our tour guide told us that they were Evzones, members of an elite force that guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And man, were they serious about their duty. They marched back and forth with such ramrod precision that I felt slouchy and undignified in their presence. When they met at the top of the stairs and executed an abrupt turn and marched down, a lady in our group grabbed her camera and started snapping away.

Greece 1Woe be unto her, because the Evzones kept goose-stepping rigidly forward, plowing right past Camera Lady, who almost bit the dust in her zeal to get a good shot. I imagined her, limp and bloodied on the sidewalk, a fuzzy pom-pom sticking out of her nose.

Really, what was the deal with those things? They seemed frivolous and unnecessary, almost humorous when compared with the semi-automatics the Evzones carried. Now those babies I took seriously. They elevated the goose-stepping to a don’t-mess-with-me meanness that made me gulp.

And when I found out that the Evzones’ shoes weigh seven pounds and have nails under their soles?

Boy, Camera Lady was just lucky to be alive, is what I thought.

Our tour guide told us that in the 1800s, when the Evzones prepared for combat, they would hide knives under the pom-poms. If they were captured in battle – fwip! – out came the knife, ready for action.

Greece 2Cool, I thought, mentally elevating the status of the lowly pom-pom to Fuzzy Defender of the Faith. Someone else in our group, a Mr. Historical Know-It-All, challenged our tour guide, saying he heard the pom-poms were used to keep water from leaking in the seams of the shoes. Sorry, buddy, I thought. Water leaking in?? What a yawner. Knives were much more interesting, and gave the soldiers a sinister presence. Water leaking in made them sound like practical gardeners.

So, Jess and Joe, if you’re reading this, head on over to Syntagma Square and check out the Evzones. Hoist an ouzo in their honor, and if you’re secure in your manhood, stick some pom-poms on your shoes when you get home.

Just don’t goose-step around the front yard.


Deanne SchultzDeanne M. Schultz is currently working on The Green Hornet Suit and Other Musings, a book that takes a wry look at life as she sees it. Her hope is that her writing inspires and helps others, moving them to connect with those around them. She blogs at dmswriter – witty weekly writing to inform and entertain.

The First Thanksgiving: It Happened in 1863


Hanging out with Priscilla Mullins aboard the Mayflower II

Happy Thanksgiving Week Everyone!

As a descendant of  two of the Mayflower pilgrims, I’ve been sharing Thanksgiving stories on my blog all month. If you missed out, feel free to check out:

Starting With Some Gratitude

The Baby Born on the Mayflower

and The One That Fell Off the Boat

This week, I thought I’d share a history of the actual Thanksgiving.

Are you ready for this?

It happened in 1863.

Wait! The pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621! Your date is over 240 years later?!

That’s right my little pilgrims. The first official Thanksgiving happened in November of 1863, when President Lincoln made it a national holiday at the urging of Sarah Josepha Buell Hale.

Sarah was a New Englander who was interested in bringing a war-torn country together. She wrote editorials for a lady’s magazine on the importance of Thanksgiving, in addition to writing the President, all state governors, and every member of Congress once a year for 17 years!

It is Sarah Josepha Buell Hale who can be thanked for our national holiday being credited to the pilgrims. Many New Englanders did observe an annual Thanksgiving, however in 1863, the states were still divided about the holiday. The South believed the North to be celebrating their current success in the war, so many of them opted to celebrate on an entirely different day.

Playing house with the Pilgrims on Plimoth Plantation

Playing house with the Pilgrims on Plimoth Plantation

What the pilgrims really did in 1621 was celebrate their harvest. To truly understand how important that first gathering was for the pilgrims and the Wampanoag native tribe, you need to know that the pilgrims would not have survived without their native neighbors.

A local comedian and storyteller in my town put it like this:

If the pilgrims hadn’t invited the Wamanoag people, that first Thanksgiving would have been an all-you-can-eat barley buffet.

They were still learning how to live off this new land. Much of the food that became staples of their diet was learned through the Wampanoag. And it is a Wampanoag tradition to give thanks throughout the year at harvests. Since they lived off the land, they took time to celebrate it at every season. They knew the peak times for picking berries, fishing in the river, planting the crops, and hunting the forests.

Two native men burning a log to be made into a canoe.

Two native men burning a log to be made into a canoe.

A native woman tends to the fire where a fish is cooking.

A native woman tends to the fire where a fish is cooking.

See that long doughy item laying in the bark? There's a bluefish in there! It's wrapped in clay  and cooked over the fire.

See that long doughy item laying in the bark? There’s a bluefish in there! It’s wrapped in clay and cooked over the fire.

So in act of gratitude, the pilgrims invited Chief Massasoit to their harvest. He brought with him some 90 men, and the harvest feast lasted for three days.

The only known description of this first harvest was found in a letter written by pilgrim colonist, Edward Winslow. He was a key person who helped foster the friendship between Wampanoag and pilgrim. He wrote:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their great king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Clearly Edward Winslow didn’t care about run-on sentences.

Eh-hem. So there you have the first harvest, which we now refer to as the first Thanksgiving.

Other noteworthy topics of conversation you can toss around the turkey table this week with family, include…

  • The first Thanksgiving had no forks. They used knives, spoons, and their fingers. Forks were not yet invented.
  • Eels were considered a delicacy and lobsters were lower class.
  • Venison was the main course served, followed by turkey.
  • The Wampanoag word for “time of harvest” is Keepunumuk.
  • Beer was considered a normal drink regardless of age, gender, or class.
  • Both cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies came years after the first Thanksgiving.
  • In the 1800’s celery was the featured vegetable – pricey, but available, it was often laid on the table in a fine silver bowls filled with cold water to let the stalks crisp up.
  • Sports have always been present at Thanksgiving. After dinner was over, the men would go to the fields to play ball or pitch horseshoes.
  • It was President Franklin Roosevelt who made Thanksgiving a truly official holiday, signing the Congressional bill that made it law in 1941.

How will you be celebrating Thanksgiving this year?

The One That Fell Off the Boat

I’ve shared with you all that my family has traced their roots back to the voyage of the Mayflower. My 17th Great Grandfather, John Howland, crossed the Atlantic as an indentured servant, and my 17th Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Tilley, was only 13 when she lost both her parents that first harsh winter in the New World.

I take pride in knowing my family is full of survivors.

I also know we’re a clumsy bunch of buggers.

Those of you that’ve stuck with me for awhile know that I tend to get lost in the woods, a little overexcited when I go to the circus, and I recommend packing extra underwear on vacation. 😉

Well, it would seem the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in my case.

I am related to John Howland, who crossed the ocean in 1621. And that same individual is the pilgrim whose biggest notoriety is the fact: he fell off the boat.


Yes, it’s true. William Bradford wrote about it in his diary.

That gossip!

As the story goes, John became seasick below deck and ventured upstairs for some fresh air. Once on deck, the winds from the ocean storm were so strong, he fell overboard. As he was falling, he managed to grab hold of a rope that was trailing in the water. Because he hung on, the men on ship were able to hoist him back on board.

Pretty crazy to think I was one stomach ache away from not being here!

Thankfully, John did survive. He went on to become a well respected member of the community, and I can see his signature on the Mayflower compact today.

Plymouth CollageThat’s me visiting the replica of the Howland house at Plimoth Plantation.

I feel a kinship to John. I think both of us make pathetic look pretty dang awesome. Even if we are a scrappy lot!

5 Things I’m Thankful For:

  1. Even when I find myself in less than desirable situations, they always make for a good story
  2. Getting to travel to Plymouth, Massachusetts and walk aboard the Mayflower II
  3. A good sense of humor
  4. A never give up attitude
  5. Mederma – that stuff you put on to minimize scarring 😀

What embarrassing moments have you overcome that made you stronger?

Or at least made a good story?

Deadwood: The Town, The TV Show, My New Guilty Pleasure

I love Deadwood.

I’m a sucker for history trips.  Put it in a textbook and I might read it, but drop me on location so I can see it and smell it and touch it – I’m in love.

So when my honey, Joe, told me that Deadwood, South Dakota was part of our road trip plan, I couldn’t wait!

Deadwood:  Final resting place of the notorious “Wild Bill” Hickcock.  Town stage to other colorful characters like Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock, Poker Alice, and Potato Creek Johnny. 

I was in Deadwood and ready to get my pioneering on!  Ok, so we spent the first night gambling…

Behold the Midnight Star:

Deadwood, is oddly a bit of a celebrity pit stop.  After filming Dances With Wolves nearby in the Black Hills, actor Kevin Costner actually opened up a casino in Deadwood called the Midnight Star.  He also established Tatanka, an educational and interactive destination in Deadwood that depicts the story of bison and their role in Native American history.  (Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to Tatanka, but I intend to go back to Deadwood someday.)

The casino is one of many that line the downtown streets of Deadwood.  There’s the historic part on the end, and then as the street ascends it is casino after casino with little tourist shops in between.  I had actually never gambled in an establishment before.  Gotta tell you, it felt good letting Kevin Costner buy me wine for the night!  😉

The street level of the Midnight Star is where all the slots reside, and where Joe and I planted our butts dreaming of coin machine winnings and never returning to work again!

The upstairs contains costumes and memorabilia from several of Costner’s films including his recent History Channel special on the Hatfields and McCoys.  But look what Joe and I found!

And now the story of Deadwood’s Elite:

The next day we visited the Adams Museum and took a Deadwood Tour, you guessed it, courtesy Kevin Costner again!

Sparing no expense, we traveled in style!

The streets of Deadwood today.

Leading downtown, is the “Original Saloon #10,” the supposed bar that Wild Bill was shot and killed in while playing poker.  However, several of the bars in Deadwood do reenactments in the afternoon daily.  You could, if you wanted, witness Wild Bill being killed more than once in the town of Deadwood.

Take a look at the handles on the doors!

So who was this Wild Bill fellow and what made him so important?  Besides the fact that he’s portrayed by the handsome and honey-voiced Keith Carradine on the HBO series Deadwood?

Alright, alright…Wild Bill, originally named James Butler Hickok, was born in Illinois and started his career as a peace officer.  When the Civil War broke out, Hickok took more determined authority and entered the army, acting as a scout and spy.  From there, the stories unfolded and James became Wild Bill, a man so quick with his pistol, you best not upset him.

History tells us that Hickok was a great shot, but we can also denounce he was a bit of drinker and probably a little trigger happy.  The man actually shot his own deputy after a street duel with another man.  Hickok heard footsteps behind him, turned and shot, only to discover it was one of his own.

He moved to Deadwood in the late 1800’s, after bumming for years as a personal guide, spokesperson, and even theatrical member of the Buffalo Bill show.  Deadwood at the time was a mining town, everyone looking for gold and no law to intervene on who’s gold it was.  Hickok didn’t come to mine however, he came to gamble.  But after only 3 weeks in Deadwood, Jack McCall shot Hickok in the back while playing a game of poker.  He’s now buried on the top of Mount Moriah Cemetery (also known as Boot Hill Cemetery).

Buried next to Wild Bill is Calamity Jane.  I admit, I didn’t know much of her story before coming to Deadwood.  I heard the name and expected courageous tales of bravery and feminism!  I was wanting to love her!

In truth, Jane was a hard edged woman, known as much for her drink as her accuracy with a shotgun.  She was the only woman who waltzed into a bar and outdrank the men every time with 100 proof whiskey.  When she ran out of money for liquor, she occasionally *eh hem* entertained men at the brothel owned by Poker Alice.

Other characters include Canadian born Seth Bullock, who actually created the resolution that was later adopted to establish Yellowstone National Park.  He also befriended and rode with with Theodore Roosevelt as one of the Rough Riders, and is known for being Deadwood’s first sheriff – an official appointment that chronicled the changing face of Deadwood as slum to Deadwood as annexed town.

No story is complete without a villain, and Deadwood had it’s fair share to choose from.  Before government officials began to settle in, and before Bullock was sheriff, there was Al Swearengen.  Al was the saloon owner of one the most notorious establishments in Deadwood, The Gem Theater.

Raking in upwards of $5,000 – $10,000 a night, Al operated a whorehouse, gambling establishment, and dealt opium too.  He was a cruel man, advertising jobs for women as maids.  Once they arrived, they learned the truth about his theater and were often too poor to return home.  They were forced into prostitution.

The area of The Gem and other brothels became known as “the Badlands.”

Deadwood the TV Show:

When Joe and I got back from vacation, I immediately requested season one of Deadwood from our library.  The show has an amazing cast and really portrayed the town well.  The set and costumes are spectacular.

I’ll warn you, there’s a lot of swearing.  But it’s to signify the way they talked in a town overrun with gamblers and thieves for its inhabitants.  Most of the words they would’ve spoken don’t make much sense in today’s terms, so the show is modernized with that liberality.

I highly recommend checking out the show, and it is my new guilty pleasure.  The actress who plays Calamity Jane is slowly winning me over again; we’ll see.


What do you think of the boomtown Wild West world of Deadwood?  Would you want to travel there?  How about live there in the 1800’s?  If you could go back in time, who would you want to hang out with?

Top 5 Glamorously Guilty Women of History

Karen Abbott

Welcome to Guilty Pleasures Friday!  If you feel guilty doing it, then it’s probably much more fun! 

This week I interviewed New York Times Bestselling Author Karen Abbott, an expert in unruly women of history!  Check out the author interview because Karen is AMAZING!  I thought it would be fun today to discuss famous, or rather infamous, women of history!

Just For Fun:

Lucky Day: Reading telegram: “Three Amigos, Hollywood, California. You are very great. 100,000 pesos. Come to Santa Poco put on show, stop. The In-famous El Guapo.”
Dusty Bottoms: What does that mean, in-famous?
Ned Nederlander: Oh, Dusty. In-famous is when you’re MORE than famous. This man El Guapo, he’s not just famous, he’s IN-famous.
Lucky Day: 100,000 pesos to perform with this El Guapo, who’s probably the biggest actor to come out of Mexico!
Dusty Bottoms: Wow, in-famous? In-famous?

Three Amigos!

Top 5 Glamorously Guilty Women of History


1.  Bette Davis

With a Hollywood career spanning 60 years and 100 films, Bette Davis is America’s Silver Screen Starlet!  Bette was a game changer in the film industry, proving women could act in a variety of challenging and dramatic roles.  She received numerous Oscar nominations, one my favorites includes her star role in Jezebel, which fans of Gone With the Wind would love.  She became the first woman to receive the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and she became the first female president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Bette didn’t earn these titles for lack of want.  She was noted as incredibly difficult to work with and took her career into her own hands multiple times.  Sometimes in breach of contract!  But through it all, she earned more compelling roles and became the highest paid woman in America in 1942.  Using her fame and fortune for good, Bette also received the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the Defense Department’s highest civilian award for her founding of the Hollywood Canteen, an entertainment facility for soldiers passing through LA during the war.

Learn more at bettedavis.com


2.  Ada and Minna Everleigh

The Everleigh Sisters quickly became the madams to know during the Victorian era of Chicago’s streets.  Ada, the elder sister, was the brains behind the business, while Minna was the face and PR of the place.  Together, they rivaled any other brothel or madam and wagered a war against the religious reformers of the day!  Where many other brothels acquired their employees through means of kidnapping and poor circumstances, the Everleighs practically held auditions.  Their “butterflies” were well fed, well dressed, and educated young women who were able to make more money than most given the opportunities available to women at the time.

Yet the sisters faced many a court case, being accused of murder three times!  All by the same woman too!  Rival madam, Vic Shaw, would stop at nothing to tear the Everleighs down.  Despite the growing political tension, and the dead body of department store son Marshall Field Jr., the Everleigh sisters prevailed!

Learn more at sininthesecondcity.com


3.  Gypsy Rose Lee

Born Rose Louise Hovick, Burlesque starlet Gypsy, began as a 12 pound baby!  The eldest daughter of Rose Hovick, Louise spent much of her childhood trying to qualm her mother’s antics and dancing as a newsboy in the background to her sister, “Dainty June.”  When showbiz had had its fill of Gypsy’s mother, and the girls couldn’t lie about their ages anymore, Gypsy and her mom fled from hotel to motel to tent by the parking lot.  Eventually, she began her career working in strip clubs, and learned that her quick wit and humor could get her through the shows without having to reveal much actual flesh.  She worked her way to the high society stages and created a customer base of men and their wives who came to hear her sing-song voice, her comedic monologues, and her tantalizing stage performance!

Learn more about gypsyroselee.net


4.  Jackie Kennedy Onassis

The least guilty of anyone on my list, but quite possibly the most glamorous!  Jackie Kennedy Onassis became First Lady at the age of 31.  Her only bad behavior was reported in grade school for disrupting the class during geography lessons.  Rather, Jackie was a true fashion icon and humanitarian.  Renowned for her work in arts restoration, she began her career as a photographer and columnist for the Washington Times-Herald newspaper.  She went on to boarding school and became fluent in French, Spanish and Italian, which assisted her greatly in her world travels as First Lady and goodwill ambassador.  Restoring parts of the White House and preserving spaces such as the Smithsonian’s Renwick Building and Grand Central Station are among her list of accomplishments during office.  Widowed at 34 after her husband, President John F. Kennedy, was murdered, she created the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in memorial.  After the death of her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, she began her career again in publishing, working at Doubleday as Senior Editor.  A lifetime promoter of the arts, Jackie often held dinners and meetings at the White House where writers, artists and musicians could mingle with statesmen alike.  Jackie was refined and only unruly in her passion for promoting the arts!

Learn more at jfklibrary.org


5.  Margaret Sanger

Where would my Women’s Studies degree be if I didn’t include Margaret Sanger?!  Many women of today owe their sexual health care to the activism led by Margaret Sanger.  Working as a nurse in the early 1900’s through the 1960’s, Sanger experienced firsthand the health risks from frequent pregnancies and poverty.  Her own mother died at the age of 50 from tuberculosis and cervical cancer, after 18 pregnancies in 22 years!  Margaret is the founder of Planned Parenthood and the birth control movement.  She was arrested in 1916 for distributing contraception.  Her trial made public the health risks for women who had too many pregnancies too close together, and the disastrous consequences of back alley abortions.  Her goal wasn’t to promote abortion by any means, but to give women more options as to when they bore children.  Contraceptive access remains a history making change in the lives of all women.  Much of our women’s health care system we owe to Margaret Sanger!

Learn more at biography.com

What women of history do you think are dangerously dynamic?  

And SPECIAL CONGRATULATIONS to WINNER of the American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee book giveaway: 

Marcia Richards

Interview with NYTBS Author Karen Abbott: Why She’s a Better Writer Than Lifeguard

I’ve been hinting at it for weeks now.  And the day is finally here!  I’m so pleased to welcome New York Times Bestselling Author Karen Abbott as a Featured Writer on the Happiness Project.

Karen is author of the historical nonfiction hits, Sin in the Second City and American Rose.  Now, I’m a big fan of history as it is, but if you ask me, Karen has some of the coolest stuff around illustrating her research and her passion for this genre!  Her websites are some of my all time favorites!  There’s KarenAbbott.net, SinInTheSecondCity.com, and AmericanRoseTheBook.com.  Just look at her book trailer for American Rose!  She’s got blurbs from authors Kathryn Stockett (The Help) and Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.)

Before I reach total fangirl overload, I better let you meet Karen for yourselves.


Describe yourself in three words.

12th House Pluto (it’s an astrological aspect in my natal chart–I’m a bit of an astrology buff). But if you read the descriptions it’s very fitting… 
Tell us about your first job.

I was a lifeguard for a small pool at an apartment complex when I was in high school. I was easily the worst lifeguard ever–more interested in reading and tanning than in potentially saving lives. I got fired after a resident called to complain that I was “rotating with the sun.” My first real job (in journalism) was as a listings editor at a weekly newspaper in Philadelphia. 
What led you into journalism?
I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, but during my junior year I got an internship at Philadelphia magazine, and fell in love with journalism. I worked as a journalist in Philly for six years before trying my hand at book-length narrative nonfiction.
How’d you come across the story of Ada and Minna Everleigh?  
As a journalist in Philadelphia, I wrote about crime, murder, sex, shady politics, and plenty of characters with charismatic sleaze—but never about history. My interest in the past began with a piece of family lore: in 1905, my great-grandmother and her sister emigrated to America from Ljubljana, Slovenia. One weekend the sister boarded a train for Chicago and was never heard from again. On a whim, I began going through that year’s archives of the Chicago Tribune, and stumbled upon the murder of department store scion Marshall Field Jr. When I read the rumor that he’d been shot in a luxurious brothel called the Everleigh Club, I forgot all about my missing relative and started researching the Club’s enigmatic proprietors, sisters Minna and Ada Everleigh, and the national culture war that erupted when a motley crew of reformers tried to shut them down.
You must have had an amazing time doing research!  What kinds of fun places did you go?

One of my favorite collections was at the University of Illinois at Chicago–it’s called the “Lawrence J. Gutter Collection of Chicagoana,” and it includes the “Vic Shaw Family Album.” (Vic Shaw was another madam in the Levee district and the Everleigh sisters’ greatest nemesis; she tried to frame them twice for murder.) The album features a picture of Vic Shaw’s “whipper”–the person in charge of disciplining the prostitutes. Her name was “Lil the Whipper” and she looked more like a prim headmistress than a savage enforcer: hair in a bun, horn-rimmed glasses, thin, tight-lipped smile. But the caption beneath reads: “Lil the Whipper: Beat 1,000 prostitutes bloody.” Apparently it was a badge of honor. 
I’m convinced the Everleigh sisters were feminists of their day!  What do you think made them so successful?

I think both the sisters and Gypsy Rose Lee tapped into a fundamental element of human nature: we’re always going to want most what we can’t have. The sisters, for example, were the first cathouse proprietors to apply the inverse formula for success: The more difficult it is to gain entry to an establishment, the greater the number of people who vie to do so. And Gypsy, of course, because famous for being the “Intellectual Stripper” whose act was more tease than strip. I first became intrigued by Gypsy from a story my grandmother told me. Her cousin went to see Gypsy perform in 1935. “She took fifteen minutes to peel off a glove,” the cousin reportedly said, “and she was so damn good at it I would’ve gladly give her fifteen more.” Who else but Gypsy could make the simple act of peeling off a glove so compelling that one would be willing to watch it for a full half hour? 
You made the city of Chicago just as much a character as the Everleigh sisters.  How did you go about defining place so descriptively in your book?

I’d never been to Chicago before I began researching Sin in the Second City, but I fell in love with the city right away. I spent countless hours in the historical society and the library, going through archives and old newspapers. I also walked around the city, looking for locations I mention in the book. The former address of the Everleigh Club is now the site of the Hillard Homes, a public housing project.
You’re also a contributing writer for the Smithsonian.  How’d you get involved with them?

They approached my friend, author Mike Dash, who writes really fantastic, incredibly researched historical narrative nonfiction. They needed another blogger, and he very kindly suggested me. I really enjoy writing for them. It gives me a chance to explore little pockets of forgotten history that would probably never work as a full-length book. 

Your newest book tells the story of burlesque sensation, Gypsy Rose Lee.  You were able to actually connect with both her son, Erik Preminger, and her sister, June Havoc.  What was that like?  (See full story here.)

Erik was really generous with his time and insights, telling me anecdotes that had never been published before. For example, Gypsy’s memoir contains a scene in which her mother accidentally shoots a cow while they’re camping. Erik implied that it wasn’t actually a cow at all but someone who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time… And talking with June Havoc was like time traveling back to the 1920s. The first time I met her she was 96 and had been bedridden for years; I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it must’ve been for someone who had been dancing since the age of two to lose the use of her legs. She had her white hair done up in these little pigtails and was eating her favorite snack of Oreos and milk. She was still gorgeous but fierce; I had the feeling that, if she were so inclined, she could leap up from that bed and strangle me with her bare hands. She shared many stories about her relationship with Gypsy–they were sort of death bed confessions. I was the last person to interview her before she died, and it was truly an honor. 

Were you nervous to write about such legendary women – the Everleighs and Gypsy?

There are always moments when I feel like the project is impossible. I think it’s inevitable for any writer. Some days you just wake up and feel like a fraud.
What was most rewarding about depicting these women’s prodigious lives?

Bringing them back to life, even for just a little while. I wish I’d been able to live their lives, but writing about them is the next best thing. 
You’ve achieved every writer’s dream – New York Times Bestselling Status! What was your first thought when that happened?

My editor immediately called me and just said one word, “Bask.” I tried to do that as best as I could, but I’m not a natural bask-er. I did have some champagne, though–before noon!–and got the page framed.
How do you stay up to date on our rapidly changing industry?

When I’m in the midst of drafting a book, I try to unplug from that as much as possible. If I get too caught up in the business aspect of publishing, I just end up obsessing over things I can’t control. The book is the only thing I can control. 
What writers/bloggers are you currently following?

I’m immersed in Civil War material–just finished 1861 by Adam Goodheart. It’s a fascinating, multi-layered perspective of the first year of the war. 
What’s the best writing advice you ever got?

This, from novelist (and fellow former Philly journalist) Jennifer Weiner: Write to please yourself. Tell the story that’s been growing in your heart, the characters you can’t keep out of your head, the tale that speaks to you, that pops into your head during your daily commute, that wakes you up in the morning. Don’t write something just because you think it will sell. Tell the story you want to tell, and don’t give up. 
What writers have you met on your career that have been the most inspiring?
Probably Erica Jong. She’s brilliant, a feminist icon, and also so warm and supportive and generous. The Everleigh sisters and Gypsy would’ve loved her. Also Erik Larson. Knowledgable about journalism, history, and the best way to make a martini. 

What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment to date?

Professionally, hitting the printed New York Times bestseller list. Personally, managing to keep my husband (and college sweetheart) around for 16 years…
What’s next on your goal list?

Currently I’m trying to polish up a draft of the year 1862. One of my spies has just been arrested. Another, disguised as a man and serving in the Union army, is falling in love with a fellow soldier. 
What’s the best joke you know?

I found this joke while researching American Rose. When NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia called burlesque “entertainment for morons and perverts” he was referring not only to striptease, but also to burlesque comedy. Here’s an example of a typical burlesque joke (warning: it’s neither lewd nor funny!) 

MAN: Baby, when are you gonna marry me? 

WOMAN: I can’t marry you–it’s Lent!

MAN: Well can’t you get it back for a few days? 

*cue groaning* 

In the 1980s, shortly before he died, burlesque impresario Morton Minsky wrote a letter to the New York Times saying he wished LaGuardia had lived to see what happened to Times Square in the 1970s: the live sex shows, the open prostitution, the general seediness, etc. He said the mayor might have then reconsidered his complaints about burlesque. He had a point…
Any lasting words of advice?

Get out of your own head as much as possible.
Karen Abbott is the author of Sin in the Second City and American Rose, both New York Times bestsellers. She is a featured contributor to Smithsonian magazine’s history blog, Past Imperfect, and also writes for Disunion, the New York Times series about the Civil War. A native of Philadelphia, where she worked as a journalist, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two African Grey parrots, Poe and Dexter. She’s at work on her next book, a true story of four daring (and not entirely scrupulous) Civil War spies who risked everything for their cause.
It ain’t over till the fat lady sings!  Karen is offering one lucky commenter a FREE copy of

American Rose!  

Leave a comment before Thursday, 5pm CST, and winner will be announced on Friday’s post!

Oops, there’s Vic Shaw, guess the party’s over!  See you in the comments section!

For more fun, check out Karen’s interview with Beauty and the Book owner, Kathy Patrick!  They go vintage shopping together!  Learn how to make your own Gypsy Rose Lee outfit!

Hatfields & McCoys: America’s Most Well Known Family Feud


The History Channel recently aired a special miniseries on the biggest family feud in history.  The Hatfields and McCoys.  Spanning roughly 23 years (1865 – 1888), these two families couldn’t seem to stay on their own side of the Tug River!

William Anderson Hatfield (played by Kevin Costner in the miniseries) was known as “Devil Anse” and was the leader of the Hatfield family living in West Virginia.  Randall McCoy (played by Bill Paxton) was the leader of the the McCoys, across the river in Kentucky.  These two men started out as friends, fighting in the Confederate Army.  But life after the war was different for these men.  Devil Anse deserted the war effort, along with some of his family, and started up his own renegade militia known as the Logan Wildcats.

Some people believe that the feud started when Randall McCoy’s brother, Asa Harmon McCoy, was murdered.  Devil Anse’s Wildcats were said to have been involved.  But no one could prove anything and no charges were filed.

Hatfield and McCoy (gilmerfreepress.net)

In 1870, a land dispute arose between Randall McCoy’s cousin, Perry Cline, and Devil Anse.  Now, Devil Anse had investments in the railroad business and was using timber from the land for a profit.  You can imagine how a land dispute would be a big deal.  In the end, Devil Anse kept the land, but the McCoy family believed he used his political advancements to impact the ruling.

A few months later, Randall McCoy accused Devil Anse’s cousin, Floyd Hatfield, of stealing his hog!  The case was brought to jury whereby 6 Hatfields and 6 McCoys sat.  One of the McCoy boys voted with the Hatfields, and that case too was lost.  It is rumored the boy who voted with the Hatfields was employed by Anse in the timber crew and didn’t want to lose his job.

The Hatfield Clan (herald-dispatch.com)

From here on out, the tension grew.  Several instances of armed standoffs occurred.  Then in 1880, the battle of the Hatfields and McCoys turns into something out of a Shakespeare play.

Devil Anse’s son, Johnse, happened to meet and fall in love with Randall McCoy’s daughter, Roseanna.  After one day together, the two decide to get married, and for awhile, Roseanna lived with the Hatfield family.

But neither family was keen on this union, and eventually Roseanna went back home.  By that time, however, she was pregnant with child, and still unmarried.  Randall threw her out from his home and she moved in with her Aunt Betty.  Roseanna would give birth to a baby shortly after, but the infant died at only 8 months of age.  And Johnse, well, he went and married Roseanna’s cousin, Nancy McCoy.

Johnse Hatfield (civilwaralbum.com)


One of the most brutal occurrences between the two families happened when Devil Anse’s brother, Ellison, was stabbed 27 times and then shot in the back by some of the McCoy brothers after a heated election day.  Devil Anse said the boys could live if Ellison lived, but he died the next day.  Anse and his men gathered the McCoy brothers, tying them to several pawpaw trees and shot them to death.

The body count grew higher when after receiving some political allegiance with the new Kentucky Governor, Randall got a $500 reward placed for Devil Anse’s capture.  The Hatfields retaliated by setting the McCoy house on fire, where two more children were killed and his wife badly injured.

The fire is said to have ended the feud in 1888.  Several Hatfields were captured after the raid and sent to Kentucky for trial.  All were sentenced to life in prison, and Devil Anse made no move to get revenge on the conviction of his family members.

The History Channel’s miniseries on this family has been wonderful.  A short interview with Kevin Costner said, “You think you know the story, but you don’t.”  He also went on to comment that for an actor, it’s all about the details.  You can see for yourself how in depth the special effects and costume teams went.  The show is fabulous!

The Hatfields (history.com)

The McCoys (kentucky.com)

Oddly enough, my roommates and I were watching The History Channel’s Pawn Stars before the first episode aired, and a gentleman brought in an 1892 rifle said to have belonged to Devil Anse Hatfield!  Passed down from his grandfather, he had a framed collage of the Hatfield family photo, the rifle, and a note signed by his great-something grandfather.  They did bring in an expert to look over the rifle, and it was from the time period, however it’s not possible to authenticate now.  I wish the man the best of luck as he researches more and hope he can get the rifle authenticated; what a unique find!

Did you tune in to watch this History Channel special?  What do you think of the story of the Hatfields and McCoys?  Have you ever visited the area surrounding the Tug River?  

For more information on the Hatfield and McCoy family feud, I referenced the Hatfield McCoy County Historical site.

For more info on the tragic love story of Roseanna McCoy, check out the Blue Ridge County Archives.

The 19th Wife

(image courtesy breigh.com)

I had a hard time putting this book down.  The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff webs together two timelines and two stories both centered around the polygamist lifestyle of early and present day Mormons.  Both a lesson in history, as well as a love story (and one that depicts many different kinds of love), this book is incredibly intriguing in its styling.

Based off the historical divorce trial and anti-polygamist campaigning of Ann Eliza Young against Prophet Brigham Young, Ebershoff spins the tale of the cryptic life that can be plural marriage.  He also tells the story of a present day murder mystery where “lost boy” Jordan Scott must figure out who killed his father before his mother, another 19th wife, takes the fall.

See!  Intriguing?!

Check out the book trailer with the author!

David Ebershoff (image courtesy randomhouse.ca)

I’ve never read a book so rich in style.  The author, David Ebershoff, is a history buff, and this book began while researching the early 1800’s.  The story of Ann Eliza Young is a gripping one for any author.  She may have been Brigham’s 19th wife in duties, but evidence suggests he had as many as 27 or 50+ wives!  She was not the first to have left him, however, she was the first to write a tell all book about the degradations of plural marriage and the polygamist lifestyle.  In her day, she was a social celebrity.

But Ebershoff’s research didn’t stop there, he wanted to make the story relevant to today.  He spent time in Hildale, Colorado City, Utah, a present day polygamist compound.  Literally being driven out of town by the Mormon police, his research was slow going.  Still, he interviewed as many former and current plural wives, lost boys, excommunicated men, and children as he could to grasp what life was like and is like today.

When I talk about his stylings, he also wrote sections of his book to include historical research fictionally presented by a graduate student doing research.  In those segments the readers receive a historical account as well as some subjective interpretation to the information.

I thoroughly enjoyed The 19th Wife as it was unlike any book I’d ever read before, both in style and subject matter.  Ebershoff’s author site is a great resource into more of the book research he did and the story of Ann Eliza Young.

What about you, reader?  Have you read The 19th Wife?  Had you known of Ann  Eliza Young already?

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