Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Unsung Heroines in American History – by Donna Schlachter

With Women’s Month a blip in our rear view mirror, I wanted to share some fascinating stories about women in American History. We often think of Molly Brown, Calamity Jane, and Amelia Earhart when we consider women who made a difference in our history and culture, but there were many more we never hear about.

In researching this post, I found an article from Time magazine, my primary source. Feel free to check it out here: https://time.com/5786065/womens-history-month-women-to-know/ . All photos came from that article. (Please note, there are women featured in this article that I chose not to highlight primarily because of their political leanings and affiliations.)

Emilia Casanova de Villaverde

Emilia Casanova de Villeverde: She lived most of her life in New York City, serving tirelessly as an abolitionist. She formed a women’s club and raised funds to support the elderly, widows, and orphans. Her mansion in the South Bronx hid weapons and ammunition, to aid the liberation army in Cuba, in a series of vaults. Emilia passed in 1897.

If you’re thinking about writing about your own heroine who uses her wealth and position of influence in society, you might want to use Emilia as your model.

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix: Dorothea’s focus was on asylum and prison reform. During her lifetime, 1802-1887, women were silent victims in both of these institutions. A husband or her parents could have a woman committed to an asylum indefinitely without a court hearing or psychological examination, merely because she spoke out against popular topics such as abolition, women’s rights, and many other topics.

Dorothea headed the Union Nurses during the Civil War, inspected prisons, jails, poorhouses, and workhouses. She forced states to allocate land, money, and legislative attention on the creation and improvement of these institutions.

A heroine in a story based on Dorothea might be portrayed as standing up to irate wardens, judges, and husbands to force better conditions for the incarcerated.

Laura Cornelius Kellogg

Laura Cornelius Kellogg: Laura was a Native woman, but also an activist, author, orator, and policy reformer. She helped found the Society of American Indians, which was run for and by American Indians. In doing so, she resisted the government’s policy to send Native American children to boarding schools, a direction that hoped to eradicate Native culture and language.

A Native American heroine based on Laura could share the story of Native children learning their tribal language in secret, for example.

Mary Tape at around 11 years old

Mary Tape: Born in China in 1857, Mary emigrates to the United States with her family, ending up as a servant in a brothel in San Francisco. She ran away, took on a different name, then met Joseph Tape while he was delivering milk. They marry, and together they build a prosperous transportation and immigration brokering business.

Despite their fabulous wealth, they are not immune from anti-Chinese sentiment and racial hostility. In 1884, their daughter is denied admission to public school, sparking the landmark court case Tape v. Hurley, which guarantees Chinese children the right to a public school education.

Perhaps this triggers an idea for a book about a rags-to-riches heroine who overcomes her past.

Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker: Maggie was the first black female bank president in the United States, founding the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903. She was also a member of the Independent Order of St. Luke (IOSL), a secret society for women of color that was founded in the 1850s. In the 1920s, she, her bank, and the IOSL, provided financial services to more than one hundred thousand members in over twenty states, and was the largest employer of professional, white-collar black women in the country.

Regardless of color, any book featuring a heroine who was among the movers and shakers of her time would thrill readers.

Of course, there are plenty more unsung heroines in our history, but this sample of different ethnicities, different backgrounds, and different heart focus is a good example of what can be accomplished when we stand up for what is right.

About Donna:

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 60 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter. She is taking all the information she’s learned along the way about the writing and publishing process, and is coaching committed career writers. Learn more at https://www.donnaschlachter.com/the-purpose-full-writer-coaching-programs Check out her coaching group on FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/604220861766651

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  1. I love learning about people I've never heard of before who made a difference in history. And if they are women,even better.

  2. Thank you for posting today, and illustrating how to use aspects of historical fact in forming story ideas. I love reading about the process!

    1. Sometimes, all we need is a niggle of an idea! Good luck in the drawing.

  3. Although I'd heard of Dorothea Dix, I was completely unaware of the other ladies' accomplishments. Thanks for sharing, Donna.