Susan LaFlesche Picotte – Pioneering Physician

Susan La Flesche, early 1900s, Nebraska State Historical Society Photograph Collections (source)
Susan La Flesche, early 1900s, Nebraska State Historical Society Photograph Collections  (source)

In 1889, Susan LaFlesche Picotte was the first American Indian woman to receive a medical degree. A number of people helped her achieve this goal, but the primary push came from Picotte’s innate ability and drive. This determination helped her to graduate at the top of her class and then practice in situations where she served as many as 1200 people spread over a large area. She achieved her ultimate dream in 1913, two years before her death, when she opened a hospital on the Omaha Reservation in the Nebraska town of Walthill.

Susan La Flesche was born to Chief Iron Eyes (Joseph La Flesche) and his wife One Woman (Mary Gale) on the Omaha Reservation on June 17, 1865. She was the youngest of eight children, five by Mary Gale and three by Joseph’s second wife, Ta-in-ne. The children worked along side their father on the farm, planting, hoeing, and harvesting crops, tending livestock, butchering and preserving meat, among other tasks. They also attended the reservation school run by missionaries.

Joseph LaFlesche (source)

Chief Iron Eyes, Joseph LaFlesche (source)

The focus of the reservation school was to transform the students into “respectable” citizens of the United States. Basically, the intent was to pull them away from their Indian culture, beliefs and traditions, forcing them to conform to the standards of the white settlers. In spite of this, Joseph encouraged his people, including his children, to work hard to achieve an education. Susan attended the reservation school until the age of 14, but as she continued her education her focus was, and would always be, to help her people and to preserve their culture.

Having progressed as far as she could at the mission school, Susan was sent east to complete her education at the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in New Jersey, where her sister Susette had graduated in 1875. She returned to the reservation at the age of 17 and began a 2 year stint as a teacher at the Quaker Mission School. During this time, she often tended the sick and one of those individuals was Alice Fletcher. Fletcher was an ethnographer who had become acquainted with Susette, Susan’s older sister, when she was traveling on the east coast lecturing with Chief Standing Bear and T.H. Tibbles about the living conditions of the Indians.

Mary Gale LaFlesche (source)

One Woman, Mary Gale LaFlesche (source)

Fletcher worked closely with Susan’s half-brother Frank LaFlesche on a two volume history of the Omaha Nation, but she would also be of help to Susan in her quest to become a doctor. After teaching at the mission school, Susan returned east to attend the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia. She graduated at the top of the class and gave a speech at graduation in 1886. Fletcher was there and was once again impressed with the young woman, so she approached Sarah Thomson Kinney, the president of the Connecticut Indian Association about a scholarship for Susan to attend medical school.

Susan received high recommendations from the Hampton professors, including their resident physician, Martha Waldron, who was a graduate of the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia.  This is where Susan applied, and once accepted, with a stipend from the Office of Indian Affairs and help from the Connecticut women, she began her official training as a physician. At first, in her letters home, Susan wrote how homesick she was and how much better prepared her classmates were, but the staff and students welcomed her and soon she felt at home. It wasn’t long before she was writing about how much she enjoyed her classes (even dissecting cadavers) and sending them medical advice.

First Female Medical College Building c. 1850 (source)

First Female Medical College Building c. 1850 (source)

Although her studies were challenging, Susan and her classmates took advantage of the culture of the city, going to the theater, opera, museums and lectures. In spite of becoming thoroughly acclimated to city living, her intention was always to return home to help her people. She spent the second summer back on the reservation trying to help fight a measles epidemic, where she encountered another challenge that she would face as a practicing physician. Many in the tribe didn’t trust the white man’s medicine, but attitudes began to change when they saw her take the medicine herself.

On March 14, 1889, Susan again graduated at the top of her class. Her high marks earned her a four month internship at the Women’s Hospital, but by August she was very glad to be back home.

Once Susan returned, she was appointed physician for the agency school, but before long she was taking care of the health of anyone on the reservation. This also included advice on hygiene and cleanliness, but Susan went beyond that. Able to speak the Omaha language and with an understanding of the larger world, she also gave advice on land issues and other legal matters. A typical day meant translating documents, writing letters and reports, taking care of patients in her office, and spending hours visiting her patients in their homes. She rode horseback or drove herself in a buggy, often returning at 10:00 at night and leaving a light in the window so that people could find her.

In addition to serving as the tribe’s physician, Susan was asked to become the medical missionary for the Women’s National Indian Association. She accepted and added the organization of Sunday School, morning and evening Sunday services and Wednesday night prayer meetings to her busy schedule.

In 1894, Susan surprised her friends and family by marrying. Henry Picotte was a handsome, outgoing and well-liked man of the Yankton Sioux. They had two sons, Caryl born in 1895 and Pierre born in 1898. Henry began farming on Susan’s land allotment and in spite of the increased responsibilities of being a wife and mother, Susan continued her work. Their life together wasn’t long. In 1905, Henry died of alcohol related disease. The ready availability of alcohol on the reservation was an issue that was very important to Susan and she took reducing this availability as one of her many causes.

Often Susan had to send seriously ill patients on the train for operations or hospital care. Her dream was to build her own hospital. Finally on January 8, 1913, in Walthill, Nebraska, her dream became a reality when the long awaited facility opened with 17 beds, both wards and private rooms, an operating room and all modern conveniences. After her death it was named the “Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte Memorial Hospital” and served the Omaha people until after World War II. It now houses a museum and community center.

Dr. Susan FaFlesche Picotte Memorial Hospital (source)

Dr. Susan FaFlesche Picotte Memorial Hospital (source)

Throughout Susan’s adult life, she suffered from a degenerative disease which she called neurasthenia. It caused severe pain of her ears, head, and neck. On several occasions she collapsed and spent weeks recovering. Finally, after two surgeries to attempt to remove diseased bone, Susan succumbed to her illness on September 18, 1915.

Susan LaFlesche Picotte was a well-respected physician with both Indian and white patients. She championed legislation and spoke to Congress on behalf of the Omaha and all Native Americans. She organized the Thurston County Medical Society, chaired the health committee of the Nebraska Federation of Women’s Clubs, and was a member of the Nebraska State Medical Society. She made tremendous contributions in the area of public health as well, but she was probably most remembered for her great love and care for her people. After her death Reverend D. E. Jenkins of the Presbyterian Mission board had this to say:

“Dr. Picotte gave herself unselfishly, passionately and often with what amounted to reckless disregard of herself to the task of relieving, helping and uplifting the Omaha Indians. By day and by night she dreamed dreams and saw visions of larger and better things yet to come for her beloved people.”


The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West by Chris Enss
Walking in Two Worlds: Mixed-blood Indian Women Seeking Their Path by Nancy M Peterson
U.S. National Library of Medicine: Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915)
Changing the Face of Medicine: Dr. Susan La Flesch Picotte
LaFlesche Family Papers: Biographical Note


The Tragic Life of Clara Immerwahr

Clara Immerwahr

Clara Immerwahr (source)

Clara Immerwahr was brilliant . . . with bad taste in men. But Clara’s bad choice translated into a very tragic story.

Clara was the youngest of four children in a comfortable, cultured family. They spent most of the year on the family farm and winters in Breslau with Clara’s grandmother. She and her sisters were tutored privately and attended a girls’ school located in her grandmother’s home.

Although her sisters wanted to marry, Clara bristled at the mention of the “prospective sphere of women’s occupations.” She was interested in natural science and had a desire to be financially independent. When her mother died in 1890, her father turned operation of the farm over to Clara’s sister Elli and her husband and moved with Clara to Breslau. There she attended a teacher’s seminary where the principal recognized her abilities and gave her a copy of Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Marcet. 

After completing her teacher training, Clara worked as a governess, but she still had a desire for more training in science, specifically chemistry. Her father’s university degree was in chemistry and he was delighted to support and help her.

By 1896, women were allowed to attend university lectures at Breslau as visitors, but Clara continued to fight for permission to take the qualifying exam for admittance into the doctoral program. In 1898, she became the first woman to pass the exam. Then on December 12, 1900, she achieved another first when she graduated magna cum laude with a Ph.D. in chemistry, becoming the first woman to receive this degree from a German university.

In spite of her achievement, it was still a boys club. Clara was able to work as an assistant to Richard Abegg, her doctoral advisor, do some research and give lectures to women’s organizations and schools, but she was limited because of her gender.

Around this time, Clara became reacquainted with Fritz Haber. Fritz had proposed to her several years before, but she had turned him down. At the time she was focused on her own studies. When they met again in the spring of 1901, the flame was rekindled and they married in August of that year.

Haber had developed quite a reputation. He was respected for his work in chemistry and had developed a method to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into compounds that could be used in fertilizer. This method revolutionized agriculture and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1918.

Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber in 1919 (source)

Fritz was a professor at the Technological University in Karlsruhe. He was ambitious and frequently brought home guests unannounced. Clara thought at first that she would be able to continue her research, but the demands of homemaking and soon motherhood proved too much. However, she did collaborate with Fritz on his work and on a textbook about thermodynamics. He dedicated the book to Clara with thanks for “quiet collaboration.”

In spite of this, he had little respect for Clara’s work. As a workaholic, he also had little time for Clara and their son, Hermann. He traveled frequently and had affairs with other women.

Fritz Haber’s star continued to rise and in 1911, he was appointed head of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. This honor came with a position as professor at the University of Berlin and membership in the Prussian Academy of Science. In spite of these honors, he may have felt some pressure to prove his patriotism.

Both Fritz and Clara were Jewish and had converted to Christianity in 1893 and 1897, respectively. Antisemitism was prevalent, including a ban preventing Jews from being officers in the army, and even very talented people of Jewish birth came under suspicion.

When the war broke out in 1914, Fritz volunteered his services and soon came up with a horrifying idea. He concentrated his work on poison gas and suggested that chlorine gas could be released to drift over the enemy’s position, disabling them without bombardment.

Clara was appalled and on more than one occasion begged him to stop his research on chemical warfare. She opposed him openly and he accused her in public of treasonous statements. When Clara received her Ph.D., she took an oath to “never in speech or writing to teach anything that is contrary to my beliefs. To pursue truth and to advance the dignity of science to the heights which it deserves.” She believed that Fritz had perverted the ideals of science.

There were also German commanders who thought the use of poisonous gas was “unchivalrous” or “repulsive,” but might be necessary if it meant victory. The first gas attack occurred on April 22, 1915 at Ypres in Belgium. After waiting for the winds to be just right, 168 tons of chlorine gas were released and drifted over the Allied troops, killing over half of them within minutes. A second attack was launched two days later.

Fritz was promoted to captain and returned to Berlin to a party in his honor on May 2, the day before he was to go to the Eastern front to oversee similar attacks. Early in the morning after the party, Clara took her husband’s revolver into the garden and shot herself. Her son heard the shot and she died in his arms. The next day Fritz went to the Russian front leaving 13-year old Hermann to deal with his mother’s suicide alone.

Since the 1970s, Clara’s life has received more attention. She is seen as an example of protest against the misuse of science. The most prestigious award given by the German section of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War is called the Clara Immerwahr award; the University of Dortmund has a mentoring project for women named for her; and Clara is the subject of Tony Harrison’s play Square Rounds. It may have taken a little time, but she hasn’t been forgotten.

Jewish Women’s Archive: Clara Immerwahr
Smithsonian Magazine: Past Imperfect: Fritz Haber’s Experiments in Life and Death

Read about other Women in Mathematics and Science.

Celebrating Black History Month Part 3

Here’s one last post of the women we’ve highlighted on the Saints, Sisters, and Sluts Facebook page for Black History Month. There are many more women who have made considerable contributions and done amazing things. It’s impossible to include them all. I know I have learned a lot though and have a basis to build on for future blog posts. I hope you’ve learned something along the way as well.

Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs by Rotograph Co., New York City, 1909

Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879 – 1961) was an educator, orator, religious leader, and business woman. She helped found the National Association of Colored Women and worked within the National Baptist Convention. In 1909, she founded the National Training School for Women and Girls. The school emphasized preparation for occupations, but also stressed being proud black women. To this end students were required to take a class in African American history and culture.

Willa Brown

Willa Brown

Willa Brown (1906 – 1992) was a teacher, social worker, pilot, and flight instructor, the first black woman officer in the Civil Air Patrol and the first black woman to hold a commercial pilot’s license in the US. With Cornelius R. Coffey (her husband and flight instructor) she established the Coffey School of Aeronautics to train pilots and mechanics.

She helped found the National Airmen’s Association of America in 1939 and lobbied for integration of black pilots into the Army Air Corps and the Civilian Pilot Training Program. The Coffey School was selected by the US Army to provide black trainees for the Air Corps pilot training program at the Tuskegee Institute.

Sissieretta Jones

Sissieretta Jones

Sissieretta Jones (1868? – 1933) was an American soprano who sang both opera and popular music. After beginning in the choir of her father’s African Methodist Episcopal church, Sissieretta went on to sing for 4 consecutive US Presidents and the British Royal Family.

Sissieretta Jones was sometimes referred to as "The Black Patti"

Sissieretta Jones was sometimes referred to as “The Black Patti”

She studied at the Providence Academy of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. In 1888, she came to the attention of Adelina Patti’s manager who suggested that she tour with the Fisk Jubilee singers. Adelina Patti was a successful Italian opera singer. Sissieretta was sometimes referred to as “The Black Patti.”

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842 – 1924) was an African American publisher, journalist, civil rights leader, suffragist and the founder and editor of Women’s Era, the first journal written by and for African American women. Together with her husband George Lewis Ruffin (who had a number of first’s to his name, including first African American male graduate from Harvard Law School,) Josephine worked to recruit black soldiers to the Union cause during the Civil War and to support the men in the field.

In 1869, Josephine joined with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to form the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1895, she organized the Nation Federation of Afro-American Women which later merged with the Colored Women’s League to form the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs with Mary Church Terrell at its head.

“The Ruffin Incident” occurred when Josephine intended to attend the meeting of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1900. She was representing two integrated groups (the New England Woman’s Club and the New England Woman’s Press Club) and one all black group, the New Era Club. When southern leaders discovered that the New Era Club was an all black organization they refused to let her represent them, but said she could participate as a representative of the other groups. She refused to compromise. The incident was widely reported across the country with much support for Ruffin.

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917 – 1977) was a voting rights advocate and civil rights activist. In 1962, in spite of the danger, she joined a group of people inspired by James Bevel and traveled to Indianola MS to register to vote. It was a very dangerous thing for African Americans to attempt to vote in the South at the time, so to bolster the groups courage she began to sing Christian hymns. This became her trademark as she organized other groups to register. Her courage brought her to the attention of leaders in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who recruited her to speak and organize.

Hamer is probably best known for her speech given to the Credential’s Committee at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. The Mississippi Democratic Party sent an all white and anti-civil rights delegation. In response Hamer with others formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Committee to challenge the all white delegation as not representing all of Mississippi. Ultimately, the compromise offered by the Convention was unacceptable to the MFDC, but the Democratic Party adopted a clause demanding equality of representation from all state delegations. Fannie Lou Hamer was selected as a delegate to the 1968 Convention.

There are several women I highlighted on the FB page, but not in these posts because they already appear in other blog posts. If you’re interested here are the names and links.

Marian Anderson
Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary Ann Shadd

In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2.

Celebrating Black History Month Part 2

I want to continue sharing brief information on the black women I’ve learned about during Black History Month. The more women I’ve researched this month, the more I have discovered. There is an embarrassment of riches in this area that has been unknown to me. One reason is the overshadowing, during their time, of black women by white women they worked jointly with such as Josephine Ruffin who worked with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to form the American Woman’s Suffrage Association. There is also the simple fact that women and African Americans are not fully present in the typical history curriculum. To anyone who thinks that we don’t need to emphasize Black History or Women’s History, I challenge you to do what I have done this month and search the internet for one person they have never heard of each day. You may be surprised.

Now for more black women from the SSS Facebook page. There are two women who should be remembered as the earliest African American female physicians: Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Rebecca Cole.

Dr. Rebecca Lee

Dr. Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831 – 1895) was the first African-American woman to become a physician. She graduated in 1864 from the New England Female Medical College. After graduation and the end of the Civil War, she worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau and other community groups to provide medical services to freed slaves in Richmond, VA. Later she returned to practice in her home in Boston, MA. Most of what we know about her comes from the introduction to her book “Book on Medical Discourse,” written from her clinical notes and published in 1883.

Rebecca Cole (source)

Rebecca Cole (source)

Rebecca Cole (1846 – 1922) was the second African-American female doctor. She graduated in 1867 from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and received her clinical training at Elizabeth Blackwell’s New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She practiced medicine for over 50 years working primarily with destitute women and children.

Sarah Early

Sarah Early

Sarah Jane Woodson Early (1825 – 1907) was the first African American women to become a college faculty member. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1856 and two years later took a position at Wilberforce College. The college had to close during the Civil War due to lack of funds, but for the next 40 years Sarah Jane was a teacher and school principal in Ohio and, after the war, in the South.

In 1868, Sarah Jane married the Rev. Jordan Winston Early, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and continued teaching and working with him in his ministry. She also traveled and lectured as the national superintendent of the Black division of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1894, she published a biography of her husband including both his life as a slave and his ministry.

Fannie Williams

Fannie Williams

Fannie Williams (1855 – 1944) was a teacher, lecturer, and social reformer. She helped organize Provident Hospital and its Training school for Nurses in Chicago (both interracial institutions.) After speaking at both the World’s Congress of Representative Women and the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, she was in great demand as a lecturer.

Fannie helped found the National Association of Colored Women, was among the founding members of the NAACP, and became the first Black member of the Chicago Woman’s Club. She wrote frequently for Chicago newspapers and in 1924 became the first African American and the first woman to be named to the Chicago Library Board. She also believed in a fully integrated women’s movement and was chosen as the only African American to eulogize Susan B. Anthony at the 1907 Women’s Suffrage Convention.

Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis (1844 – 1907) was an American sculptor of African American and Native American descent. She attended Oberlin College where she began sculpting and quickly became successful. She held her first solo exhibition in 1864 and produced popular works such as medallion portraits of John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison.

In 1865 Lewis went to Rome to study where she spent much of her adult life working and studying. One of her major works was a marble sculpture called “The Death of Cleopatra.” It was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this monumental piece (3000 lbs) was lost for almost 100 years. It was rediscovered, although covered in paint, and finally restored and donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1994.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000) was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Raised in Chicago, she had approximately 75 published poems by the time she was 16. In 1943, she received her first award and in 1945 her first book “A Street in Bronzeville” was published to critical acclaim.

“Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve. And I began playing with words.” Gwendolyn Brooks on Poetry

In 1950, Brooks became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry with her book “Annie Allen.” She received many other awards including the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement, the National Medal of Arts, and was honored as the first Woman of the Year chosen by the Harvard Black Men’s Forum.

Mary Frances Berry

Mary Frances Berry

Mary Frances Berry, born Feb 17, 1938, was Provost at the University of Maryland, Chancellor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Assistant Secretary for Education in the US Dept of Health, Education, and Welfare. She received her education at Howard University, and the University of Michigan, obtaining  Ph. D. and J. D. degrees.

Berry was one of the founders of the Free South Africa movement and she was arrested and jailed several times due to her support of the cause. She was in Capetown in 1990 to greet Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison.

In 1980, Berry was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as a Commissioner on the US Commission of Civil Rights. She was later fired by President Reagan for criticizing his stand on civil rights and won her reinstatement through the federal courts. She was appointed Chairperson of the Commission by President Clinton and served until her resignation in 2004. Since then she has been a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Audrey Lord

Audre Lord

Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) was an American poet, essayist, and activist of Caribbean descent. She was politically active in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. Later she also became active in lesbian and gay rights causes. She co-founded “Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press” with author Barbara Smith, the first US publisher specifically for women of color. She was the State Poet of New York.

“I am defined as other in every group I’m part of”, she declared, “the outsider, both strength and weakness. Yet without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression.”

Lorde described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She believed that the typical feminist approach of defining things and issues based only on gender was simplistic, if perhaps necessary, and that there were other issues of difference that needed to be addressed.

Violette Neatley Anderson

Violette Neatley Anderson

Violette Neatley Anderson (1882 – 1937) was an African American attorney and judge with many “firsts” to her name. Anderson was born in London and moved to the US as a young child with her family. After graduating from Chicago Law School in 1920, she became the first African American woman admitted to the Illinois bar, the first female city prosecutor in Chicago, the first African American woman to practice law in the US District Court Eastern Division, and the first African American woman admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court.

Pearl Bailey on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968

Pearl Bailey on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968

Pearl Mae Bailey (1918 – 1990) was known as an actress and singer, but she was much more. She wrote 4 books and at 67 earned a degree in Theology from Georgetown University. At 15, she won an amateur contest and decided to pursue a career in entertainment. Beginning in vaudeville, she made her Broadway debut in 1946 in St. Louis Woman. She won a Tony Award for the lead role in the all-black production of Hello Dolly in 1968. Her career was varied including both movie and television, voices for animation, even commercial jingles. During WW2, Bailey sang with the USO; she also sang in nightclubs with some of the greats including Duke Ellington.

One more post tomorrow will let me finish up the brief information I’ve posted on these women for the month. If you missed them be sure to read Part 1 and Part 3.

Celebrating Black History Month Part 1

During Black History Month, I’ve been highlighting at least one black woman each day on the Saints, Sisters, and Sluts Facebook page. I share other people’s posts, but I’ve made an effort to post at least one woman each day that is new to me or that I’ve learned something new about, and I’ve learned so much. However, there are people who follow the blog or follow me on twitter that don’t see the Facebook posts, so I decided to post that information here as well. It will also give me a handy place to refer to, because some of these women I want to learn more about, possibly for future blog posts.

All of the women I’ve posted have been African Americans. I didn’t necessarily intend it to be that way, Canada and Britain celebrate as well, there are two women Presidents in Africa now, and black women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize recently, but there is so much of my own country’s history that I still don’t know, so I just went where my search led me. There are many more women who could be highlighted, 28 days just isn’t enough. I’m going to break this up into several posts to keep them relatively short and readable. Please comment and let me know who your favorites are or more information about these women.

Maggie L. Walker

Maggie L. Walker

Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker (1864 – 1934) was an African-American business woman. She was the first woman to charter a bank in the US and the first female bank president. Working with the Independent Order of St. Luke, she established a newspaper, The St. Luke Herald, and chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank.

Maggie Walker worked to create tangible improvements in the lives of women and African Americans. She also was an example for people with disabilities later in life when she was confined to a wheelchair. The Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies in Richmond, VA is named for her and her home was designated a National Historic Site and opened as a museum in 1985.

Edith S. Sampson, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949

Edith S. Sampson, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949

Edith Spurlock Sampson
Edith Spurlock Sampson (1898 – 1979) left school at 14 because of family financial difficulties. She cleaned and de-boned fish at a fish market, but was able to return to school and graduate. She went on to study social work at the New York School of Social Work, then went to law school while working full time as a social worker.

After graduating from John Marshall Law School, she opened a law office and worked with the Juvenile Court system and as a probation officer. In 1927, she became the first woman to receive a Master of Laws from Loyola University’s graduate program and passed the Illinois bar exam. In 1934 she was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the US. Sampson was the first black woman elected as a judge in the state of Illinois, was the first African-American appointed as a delegate to the United Nations, and was the first African American US representative to NATO.

Audrey Forbes Manley

Audrey Forbes Manley

Audrey Forbes Manley
Audrey Forbes Manley (b. 1934) is an American pediatrician and public health administrator. After graduating from Spelman College and Meharry Medical College, she began a distinguished career that included private practice and becoming chief of medical services at Grady Memorial Hospital’s Emory University Family Planning Clinic. Manley began her career in Public Health in 1976 eventually becoming US Deputy Surgeon General and acting Surgeon General from 1995 to 1997 when she became the President of her alma mater Spelman College.

Rosa Parks arrest in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on the bus

Rosa Parks arrest in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on the bus

Rosa Parks
February 4th of this year would have been Rosa Park’s 100th birthday. Most of us are familiar with her act of civil disobedience in 1955, when she refused to give up her seat in the ‘colored’ section of the bus to a white man, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But Parks was more than a demure seamstress, she had been an active participant in the fight for civil rights since 1943. She also endured many hardships due to her involvement in the movement. She and her husband eventually moved to Detroit MI to try to find work. Jeanne Theoharis, political science professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, has written a new biography of Rosa Parks which sounds excellent, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. She gave a presentation about Rosa Parks which you can view online.

Elizabeth Jennings c. 1895

Elizabeth Jennings c. 1895

Elizabeth Jennings
One hundred years before Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat on the bus, Elizabeth Jennings insisted on her right to ride on a street car in NYC. When she was removed, she filed a law suit. Future President Chester Arthur won the case and the street cars of the city were integrated as a result. See Patricia Dolton’s blog post for more information. Not much is known about her later life. She was a teacher, church organist, and she opened the first kindergarten for black children in NYC.

Leontyne Price

Leontyne Price

Leontyne Price
Leontyne Price is an American soprano with an exquisite voice. Although Price wasn’t the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, she was the first to sing many different roles at the Met and to build an opera career in the US and in Europe. When she debuted on January 27, 1961, the final ovation was 35 minutes, one of the longest in the history of the Met. Prior to this she had developed her reputation in Europe including being the first African American to sing a leading role in Italy’s great opera house, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Her many awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, and 19 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award..

Plácido Domingo wrote, “The power and sensuousness of Leontyne’s voice were phenomenal–the most beautiful Verdi soprano I have ever heard.”

Delta Sigma Theta founders

Delta Sigma Theta founders

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was founded by 22 women from Howard University in 1913. Their first public act was to march in the Women’s Suffrage March on March 3, 1913. The participation of African American women in 1913 was controversial, but this year ΔΣθ is sponsoring the march on March 3, 2013 to commemorate the Centennial of the 1913 march which changed the tide of the women’s suffrage movement. The National Women’s History Museum invites you to join them.

Regarding their decision to march in the Suffrage Parade in 1913, founder Florence Letcher Toms commented, “We marched that day in order that women might come into their own, because we believed that women not only needed an education, but they needed a broader horizon in which they may use that education. And the right to vote would give them that privilege.”

A sisterhood of more than 300,000 predominantly Black college-educated women, the sorority currently has over 1,000 chapters located in the United States, England, Japan (Tokyo and Okinawa), Germany, the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Republic of Korea. (from Wikipedia)

Continue to read Celebrating Black History Month in Part2 and Part 3.