Biographers International Interview

Hi everyone. I know it is has been a while but a lot has been going on behind the scenes that I am hoping I will be able to tell you about soon. Also, I just got back from the Chanticleer Authors Conference and have lots to report on there as well.

But right now I wanted to share an interview that Biographers International, one of the organizations I belong to, did with me recently. It’s in the member-only newsletter but I figured it would be okay to share since it with me, not anyone else. And “new” is a relative term; I’ve been a member for a few years now.

SPOTLIGHT ON NEW MEMBERS

Nicole Evelina

What is your current project and at what stage is it?

My first biography, America’s Forgotten Suffragists: Virginia and Francis Minor, is currently in copy editing and will be published by Globe Pequot/Two Dot Press on March 1, 2023. Virginia was very important in the suffrage movement in St. Louis from the 1860s until her death in the 1890s. Her husband, Francis, was a strong male ally and used his position as a lawyer to help Virginia take the issue of women’s suffrage to the Supreme Court in 1875—the only time that ever happened. Both Minors were close friends with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and gained a fair amount of notoriety in their time, but have since been forgotten. This is the first biography ever written about them.

What person would you most like to write about?

I have several subjects in mind, but one I’m willing to talk about is Marie Rose Ferron, a Catholic mystic and the first stigmatist in the United States. (For non-Catholics, stigmata is when someone mystically receives the wounds of Christ in their body and suffers the crucifixion in union with Jesus.) Supernatural phenomenon like this is very controversial, but I feel like she should be declared a saint. Even if you take the stigmata and visions away, she was a woman of great virtue.

What have been your most satisfying moments as a biographer?

The moment I finally tracked down exactly where in St. Louis the Minors’ estate, Minoria, was located. It no longer exists, but using deeds, surveyor’s reports, and old maps, I was able to find the exact lot number and location and translate that to a modern address. There previously had been speculation about where it was located, but no one else had definitively identified it. While that is a small thing, it was very important in understanding their lives during the time they lived there. Unfortunately, today, that address is in a very bad neighborhood, so it isn’t safe to do more than drive by the empty lot.

What have been your most frustrating moments?

The Minors left precious few personal letters and no journals or other personal writings. We do have some public speeches, but those don’t give the insight that more intimate correspondence would have. It was very frustrating to not have these types of sources when I was trying to reconstruct their personalities and relationships.

If you weren’t a biographer, what dream profession would you be in, and why?

Well, I write historical fiction and history as well, and my day job is in marketing. If I could have another job, it would be as an historian who researches and publishes rather than teaches. But if you want something totally unrelated, I’d love to be a makeup artist. Makeup is a hobby for me (I seriously have more than 40 shades of eyeshadow), and I find it a great creative outlet. I’m not nearly as good as people you see on shows like Glow Up, but it is so much fun to play with.

What genre, besides biography, do you read for pleasure and who are some of your favorite writers?

Historical fiction and fantasy are my two favorites, but I also like gothic [fiction] and a good domestic suspense. Favorite historical fiction writers include Kate Quinn, M. J. Rose, and Susanna Kearsley. Favorite fantasy authors are Kim Harrison, Erin Morgenstern, and Seanan McGuire. Gothic: Ruth Ware, Diane Setterfield, and Carol Goodman. Domestic suspense: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (they are co-authors), Liane Moriarty, and Kerry Lonsdale.

 

Fearless Females: Margaret Chung

To help celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Month, which was in May, and Pride Month, which is June, this month we’re exploring the life of Margaret Chung. She was not only the first American-Born Chinese female doctor, but also established a program which paved the way for women in the military.

Fun fact: The biography of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States—whom we profiled back in February 2021The Doctors Blackwell by Janice P. Nimura, was just named a Pulitzer Prize finalist!

“Women of every nation, every country, should learn medicine, so that they can teach the women of their countries and their races how to care for themselves and their children—how to improve the coming generation.” — Margaret Chung, 1914

The first of 11 children, Margaret Jessie Chung was born on October 2, 1889, in Santa Barbara, California, to parents who had emigrated from China in the 1870s. In 1902, the family moved to Los Angeles. Not long after, her parents became ill, so Margaret spent much of her childhood raising her younger siblings while dreaming of becoming a medical missionary in China or perhaps a newspaper reporter.

Despite these circumstances, she still attended the Seventh Street School and then the preparatory school at the University of Southern California. Young Margaret was known for being an excellent gymnast, speaker and was twice lauded in the Los Angeles Herald, once for a poem she wrote and again as being a promising young student. She won a scholarship to Southern California University and supported herself by working as a waitress, saleswoman and through prize money she won at speech contests.

In 1911, Margaret enrolled in the University of Southern California Medical School and was the only woman and person of color in her class; she was also believed to be the first Chinese woman to enter medical school in the state of California. Legend has it that she purposefully wore men’s clothing and was enrolled under the name “Mike” to hide her true identity. When she graduated in 1919, her true gender and race were revealed, which made it difficult for her to obtain residencies and internships in U.S. hospitals. She was also denied admission as a medical missionary by the Presbyterian missionary board.

Not willing to give up on her dream, Margaret moved to Chicago, where she conducted her internship at the Mary Thompson Women’s and Children’s Hospital and residency at Kankakee State Hospital. She also studied at a private clinic under Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, herself a radical who was willing to train women as surgeons, something most other doctors wouldn’t do. While in Chicago, Margaret served as the resident assistant in psychiatry for the first Juvenile Psychopathic Institute of the State of Illinois at the Cook County Hospital and was later appointed state criminologist for Illinois.

In 1919, Margaret’s father died and she moved back to California to be with her family. She studied plastic surgery at the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital in Los Angeles. There, she treated victims of many horrific industrial accidents. Not long after, she opened her own practice, where she saw many actors, dancers and musicians of Hollywood’s early years, including Mary Pickford, and became known as a “physician to the stars.”

Not interested in catering to celebrities forever, in 1922, Margaret moved to San Francisco’s Chinatown to minister to the Chinese American immigrants, especially women, since she couldn’t serve in China itself. But there was a small problem: most Chinese didn’t trust Western medicine. She was far more successful with white patients, such as Sophie Tucker, Helen Hayes, and Tallulah Bankhead, who came to her seeking “exotic” treatments because she was Asian. In 1925, Margaret helped establish the first Western hospital in Chinatown, leading its OB/GYN and pediatrics unit.

During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) when Japan invaded China, Margaret organized “rice bowl parties” to fundraise for the war effort in over 700 U.S. cities. Later, she was asked by U.S. Navy reserves ensign Steven G. Bancroft to help him become a member of the Chinese army, which she had no power to do. But she did befriend him and several of his fellow pilots. She treated them as her patients and accompanied them on hunting and camping trips. Soon they were as close as family.

Having been turned down when she asked to become a front-line surgeon in the war, Margaret settled for secretly recruiting pilots who became part of the famous “Flying Tigers” unit that defended China. The more than 1,500 men of the aviation, submarine and other units called her “Mom Chung” because she was so dear to them. Because she wasn’t married (and therefore had no husband for them to call “Dad”) they started calling themselves her “fair-haired bastards.” These men included Hollywood legends such as John Wayne and Ronald Reagan, political and military figures like Fleet Admirals Chester W. Nimitz and William “Bull” Halsey Jr., and even a rare “daughter” named Amelia Earhart.

During WWII Margaret supported the Allies and her “sons” by sending them letters and care packages and introducing them so they could help one another. She also lobbied Congress to allow women to volunteer in the military and helped establish WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, the women’s branch of the naval reserves during World War II. This helped women later gain admission into the U.S. armed forces.

Despite this success, Margaret was not given credit for this achievement, nor was she allowed to serve in her own group. It is speculated this is because Margaret was a strong ally of the LGBTQIA+ community in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, has several very close relationships with women who were known lesbians, and the FBI investigated her in the 1940s to determine whether or not she was a lesbian, which was a serious accusation at the time. Margaret never confirmed or denied these rumors, and despite being briefly engaged, never married.

After the war, Margaret retired to a house in Marin County that her “adopted sons” bought for her. By this time she was well-known throughout the country and both a comic book series and movie were made about her life. She died on January 5, 1959, at the age of 70, from cancer. Among her pall bearers was Chester W. Nimitz, one of her “fair-haired bastards.”

It is said that Margaret was the inspiration for the character of Dr. Mary Ling portrayed by Anna May Wong in the 1939 film King of Chinatown. At least three Flying Fortresses were named “Mama Chung” in her honor by her “adopted” sons during World War II and a tunnel boring machine for the San Francisco Municipal Railway’s Central Subway was named “Mom Chung” after her in 2013. She was also honored with a plaque in the Legacy Walk in Chicago, which celebrates LGBTQIA+ history and its people.

Cover Reveals! Sex and the City & America’s Forgotten Suffragists

I am so excited to show you the covers of my next two books, which are also my first traditionally published books. You can pre-order both in hardback now; e-book is coming soon and paperback will be out about a year after the initial publication.

Coming November 15!

An insightful look at the cultural impact of the television phenomenon Sex and the City

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, one word was on everyone’s lips: sex. Sex and the City had taken the United States, and the world, by storm. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha influenced how a generation of women think, practice, and talk about sex, allowing them to embrace their sexual desires publicly and unlocking the idea of women as sexual beings on par with men.

In Sex and the City: A Cultural History, Nicole Evelina provides a fascinating, in-depth look at the show’s characters, their relationships, and the issues the show confronted. From sexuality and feminism to friendship and motherhood, Evelina reveals how the series impacted viewers in the 1990s, as well as what still resonates today and what has glaringly not kept up with the times. The world has changed dramatically since the show originally aired, and Evelina examines how recent social movements have served to highlight the show’s lack of diversity and throw some of its storylines into a less than favorable light.

While Sex and the City had problematic issues, it also changed the world’s perception of single women, emphasized the power of female friendship, built brands, and influenced fashion. This book looks at it all, from the pilot episode to the spinoff movies, prequel, and reboot that together have built an enduring legacy for a new generation of women.

Pre-order hardback here:

amazon-logo-icon    

This book is part of Rowman & Littlefield’s Cultural History of Television series:

 

Coming March 1, 2023!

Missouri’s Virginia Minor forever changed the direction of Women’s Rights–not Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Carrie Chapman Catt, or any of the other so-called “marquee names” of the suffrage movement–when she and her husband, Francis, argued Minor v Happersett in 1875. Despite the negative ruling, this landmark case brought the right to vote for women to the U.S. Supreme Court for the first and only time in the seventy-two year fight for women’s suffrage in the United States.

America’s Forgotten Suffragists: Virginia and Francis Minor is the first biography of these activists who had a profound impact on the suffrage movement but have largely been forgotten by history. Virginia and Francis were unique for their time in being jointly dedicated to the cause of female enfranchisement. Unlike the brief profiles available now, this book will paint a full picture of their lives, depicting their youth, married life, and their highly-lauded civilian work during the Civil War. Their early suffrage work and famous Supreme Court case will be covered in depth, along with an exploration of how it actually helped the suffrage movement by giving it a unifying direction, despite the court delivering a negative verdict. This biography will also cover Virginia and Francis’ continued fight for women’s suffrage after the case, including Virginia’s tax revolts, writings, and campaigning for the franchise in Nebraska.

Preorder hardback here:

 

More information on the Minors and additional insights that didn’t make it into the book are available at the Virginia and Francis Minor Memorial Institute.

Fearless Females: Estelle Massey Osborne

In honor of Nurses Week (May 6-12), this month we’ll learn the amazing story of Estelle Massey Osborne, who fought against racial discrimination in nursing. The Rory Meyers College of Nursing at NYU says of her: “Few Americans helped to change the face of nursing in the 20th-century more than Estelle Massey Osborne.”

Estelle Massey was born on May 3, 1901, to Hall and Bettye Estelle Massey in Palestine, Texas. Her parents were uneducated and worked menial jobs, but they wanted a better life for their children so they saved up and managed to send all 11 of them to college.

Estelle received her teaching certification from Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University). She taught for a while, but after being badly injured in a violent incident at a school where she was teaching, she decided to become a nurse. Estelle joined the first nursing class of St. Louis City Hospital #2 (later Homer G. Phillips Hospital), where she developed a passion for obstetrics. She graduated in 1923 and worked there as head nurse for three years.

In 1926 or 1927 she moved to New York City to teach at the Lincoln School of Nursing and the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, where she was the first Black instructor. She attended summer sessions at Teachers College of Columbia University. Then, in 1928, she received a scholarship from the Julius Rosenwald Fund—the first Black nurse ever awarded one—which enabled her to study full time. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1930, and a master’s in nursing education in 1931, the first Black nurse to do so.

The following year, she married Dr. Bedford N. Riddle, but they later divorced. In 1934 she worked as a researcher for the Rosenwald Fund, studying rural life in the deep South and trying to determine how to better enable people there to access health care services. Later the same year, Estelle became president of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses where she created strong relationships with the American Nurses Association (ANA), National League for Nursing, and National Organization for Public Health Nursing. With the bonds she formed, Estelle successfully lobbied to get these organizations to allow Black nurses and worked to improve post-graduation opportunities for Black nurses. By the time she left five years later, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses’ membership had increased five-fold to nearly 950 nurses.

In 1940, Estelle returned to St. Louis and the Homer G. Phillips Hospital to become its first Black female director of nursing. When the U.S. entered WWII, she took up the cause, even though the Army and Navy both banned Black nurses. In 1943 she was appointed as a consultant to the National Nursing Council for War Service, where she acted as a liaison to nursing schools by recruiting desperately-needed student and graduate nurses. She also used this position to change discriminatory policies at nursing schools and in the military. Within two years, thanks to Estelle’s efforts, 20 more nursing schools admitted Black students, the Cadet Nurse Corps had inducted 2,000 Black members, and the Army and Navy both welcomed Black nurses.

In 1945, Estelle became the first Black instructor at New York University’s Department of Nursing Education. The following year, she received the Mary Mahoney Award from the ANA for her efforts to help Black nurses become integrated within the broader nursing community. In 1947, she married again, this time to Herman Osborne.

In addition to teaching nursing as the first Black faculty member at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, she led many nursing associations, trying to increase Black membership and bridge the divide between white and Black associations. In 1948, she became the first Black member of the ANA board, where she served as a delegate to the International Council of Nurses. Estelle was also a member of the National Urban League, first vice-president of the National Council of Negro Women, and an honorary member of Chi Eta Phi Sorority and the American Academy of Nursing.

In 1954 she became Associate Professor of Nursing Education at the University of Maryland and five years later, the NYU Department of Nursing named Estelle “Nurse of the Year.” In 1966, she left her executive role at the National League for Nursing to retire.

Estelle died on December 12, 1981, at the age of 80. In 1984, the ANA inducted her into their Hall of Fame. Two scholarships bearing her name are given out annually by NYU Meyers and the Nurses Educational Fund.

Fearless Females: Susan Elizabeth Tracy and Eleanor Clark

Eleanor Clark Slagle

Well, I totally forgot to post this in April. At least I’m only two days late…

April is National Occupational Therapy Month.

There is an old saying that goes something like, “if you want something done right, ask a woman.” That is exactly how occupational therapy (OT) got its start. In the early 1900s, two women, nurse Susan Elizabeth Tracy and social worker Eleanor Clark Slagle changed how OT would be viewed forever.

OT has its roots in treating mental illness in the 18th and 19th centuries. It became a new field of study under Dr. Benjamin Rush of Baltimore around the turn of the 20th century, as he explored how doing occupational activities might help patients heal by keeping them busy. In 1917 he co-founded the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy and authored one of the first textbooks on the subject Occupational Therapy: A Manual for Nurses in 1918. Because of this, he is often called “the father of occupational therapy.”

However, two women actually beat him to the punch.

Susan E. Tracy
Susan E. Tracy actually wrote the first American book on OT, Studies in Invalid Occupations, in 1910, eight years before Dr. Rush, and is credited with performing the “first systemic studies on occupational therapy.”

Little is known about her life and no photos of her exist. She was born in 1864 or 1878 to a family of teachers. She studied nursing in Massachusetts and after graduation in 1898, she went to work as a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, where she established an OT department and began teaching OT to nurses. In 1906, she gave a series of lectures at the Adams-Nervine Asylum in Boston. Sometime before 1912, she became an administrator at a nursing school. In 1912, she opened an OT practice, where she also taught nurses and focused on using OT to help disabled soldiers wounded in WWI. Elizabeth is recognized as one of the founders of The American Occupational Therapy Association. She died in 1928 in Massachusetts.

Eleanor Clark Slagle
Eleanor May Clark was born on October 13, 1870, to William John and Emeline Clark in Hobart, New York. Little is known of her childhood other than she went by the name Ella May Clark. She married Robert E. Slagle in Chicago, but the two later divorced.

Her education is also fuzzy. Eleanor attended Claverack College in Columbia City, New York, but it is unclear if she graduated or left school to get married. By her late 30s, she worked with the mentally ill at Hull House in Chicago. In 1911, she attended a course at the UC Chicago School for Civics and Philanthropy that “taught occupations and amusements to staff working at state institutions.” From 1912-1914, she was director of the department of occupational therapy at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1914, Eleanor resigned and returned to Chicago, where she gave lectures at the Chicago School for Civics and Philanthropy and taught OT at Hull House. In 1915, she created the first organized OT training program at the Henry B. Favill School of Occupations in Chicago which helped the emerging field become recognized as legitimate by the medical profession.

In 1917, Eleanor became general superintendent of occupational therapy for all of the Illinois state hospitals and was a founding member of the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy. She was part of this organization until 1937, serving as secretary-treasurer, vice president and president (1919-1920) and founding its headquarters in New York City in 1922.

Eleanor spent the next 20 years promoting OT as director at the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene. Encyclopedia Britannica credits her with “demonstrat[ing] the first large-scale occupational therapy program for a state hospital system and also found[ing] an annual training institute for state therapists that became a model for similar programs throughout the United States.” During her career, she trained over 4,000 nurses in OT.

Eleanor died of heart issues on September 18, 1942, in New York and is rightfully called “the mother of occupational therapy,” standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Dr. Benjamin Rush.

Updates on 2022/2023 Publications and Other Things

When I started this blog, my intent was to trace the publication process of books and my experience as an author. I think I’ve accomplished that on the self-pub side, so now as my first traditionally published books head to press, I want to bring you along on that journey as well. Here’s what is going on:

Sex and the City: A Cultural History

  • Has a publication date: November 15, 2022 (This could change. There is a national paper shortage that is wreaking havoc on publication schedules for books large and small across the country.)
  • Has been through two rounds of edits and photos are gathered.
  • I’ve seen the cover. And I love it! Will share as soon as it is finalized.
  • The book is now in production. I’m waiting to hear from that department on the rest of the schedule.

America’s Forgotten Suffragists: Virginia and Francis Minor

  • Has a publication date: March 1, 2023.
  • Has been through one round of edits and I should get the second one any day now.
  • Photos are gathered.
  • We’ve started talking about the cover. It is being designed.

League of Women Voters Book

  • This one works differently because the League is contracting for the publishing, not me. They are working on that.
  • We are still editing.
  • Tentative publication date: August 26, 2022.

Other Updates

  • I’ve been asked to me a mentor for the Launchpad Prose Competition in the next cycle. I’m really excited! You may remember that I was in the Top 10 in that competition a few years ago.
  • I’m also serving as Novel Writing Expert for the National Association of Writers and Editors for the next three years.
  • The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy and America’s Forgotten Suffragists are finalists in their categories (Chaucer Early Historical Fiction-Best Series and Nellie Bly Award for Investigative Journalism, respectively) at the Chanticleer Book Awards. Winners will be announced at the conference in June. I’m still waiting to hear if Consequences is advancing in the novella category.

New Events

And I’m working on my next historical fiction and my next biography, as well as the non-fiction book that is due in January.

Women’s History Month: Meditations on Women and War

image purchased from Adobe Stock

Happy Women’s History Month, everyone!

Here in the U.S. I am blessed to be celebrating this month in peace, but I have been thinking a lot about the women of Ukraine, who are once again bravely defending their homes, some for the second or third time in their lives. From members of Parliament to citizens from the countryside, they are joining together in Resistance.

When we think about war, it is usually the soldiers on the battlefield or the government leaders (mostly men) who come to mind. But for all of known history, women have been fighting in their own ways.  Today, as we kick off this important month, I want to remember all the women, past and present, who have:

  • Like Boudicca, led revolts when their homes were invaded.
  • Like Boudicca’s daughters, survived rape and other forms of abuse at enemy hands.
  • Like Catherine Van Rensselaer and Peggy Schuyler, burned their own crops so the enemy wouldn’t have anything to eat.
  • Like Hypatia, defended the intellectual and cultural centers of their cities.
  • Like Irena Sendler, risked their lives to save children from death at enemy hands.
  • Like Virginia Minor, supplied hospitals with food and comforted the sick and dying.
  • Like Catherine McAuley and her Sisters of Mercy, walked bravely onto the front lines and into enemy territory to nurse the wounded and dying on both sides.
  • Like Catherine Jarrige and the martyrs of Compiegne, stayed true to their faith and values, even in the face of death.
  • Like Elise Rivet, gave their lives in exchange for those of the innocent.
  • Like Stanislawa Leszczyńska, aided women in their hour of need and brought new life into the world amid death and darkness.
  • Like Hedy Lamarr, used their intelligence to invent revolutionary technology in times of war.
  • Like Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah and Eleanor Roosevelt, used their diplomatic skills to try and broker peace.
  • Like Deborah Sampson, hid their sex in order to fight in their army.
  • Like Naomi Parker Fraley, the real Rosie the Riveter, worked in factories, producing the items men needed to fight.

And the millions of unnamed, ordinary women who have:

  • Taken up arms (legally or not) to defend her homes, families, and homelands.
  • Governed or run their lands while men were away at war.
  • Lost children, husbands, fathers, brothers and fellow women to war.
  • Lost their lives to bombings, gunfire and other violence.
  • Sewed clothing, made bandages and cooked food for those who would fight.
  • Raised money to aid their cause.
  • Prayed for peace while bombs fell around them and gunfire blared.

We salute you and thank you for all you have done. May we learn from your strength, tenacity and courage. And may your efforts never be forgotten.

If you are the praying kind, please do so for the women of Ukraine and all who face similar circumstances around the world.

Fearless Females: Dr. Gladys West

Next time you fire up Google Maps or ask your GPS how to get somewhere, say a word of thanks to Dr. Gladys West. Without her, we’d all still be using paper maps to find our way around.

Gladys Brown was born in Sutherland, Virginia, in 1930 to Nolan and Macy Brown, field and tobacco factory workers in a rural town populated mostly by sharecroppers. From an early age she understood that if she wanted to do more than work the land for the rest of her life, she’d have to study hard in school. She attended a small red, one-room school house where seven years of Black students were all taught together. She quickly showed unusual aptitude and her parents, wanting a better life for her, began saving money to send her to college.

But as happens to so many people, unexpected bills kept depleting their savings and Gladys quickly realized she would have to pay her own way. Like her parents, she tried to save, but it was slow going. Luckily, the state of Virginia announced plans to give college scholarships to the two top students from her year. Gladys buckled down and she succeeded in becoming Valedictorian of her high school class and earning one of the two full scholarships.

She chose to attend Virginia State College (now University), a historically Black university and majored in math because it was a respectable subject. To pay for room and board (which the scholarship didn’t cover), she took a part time job babysitting for one of her math teachers. In 1952, she graduated with her bachelor’s in mathematics and began teaching. A few years later, Gladys attended Virginia State, where she earned a master’s in mathematics in 1955.

After graduation, she was offered a job as a computer programmer and coder at Naval Proving Ground (now Naval Surface Warfare Center) in Dahlgren, Virginia, in 1956. According to The Guardian, “this made her only the second Black woman to be hired to work as a programmer at the base. And she was one of only four Black employees.” This was during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, and while she and her soon-to-be husband Ira West (they married in 1957) kept an eye on the goings on, they were barred from participating due to their government work.

So, just like in school, Gladys decided to form her own kind of rebellion by being the best worker she could and showing what Black people are capable of. One of her first major projects was the Naval Ordinance Research Calculator, an award-winning program using hundreds of hours of computer calculations, which often had to be double-checked for errors by hand, to calculate the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune. Gladys quickly rose through the ranks, receiving commendations for her hard work and becoming project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project, the first satellite that could monitor the oceans. At the same time, she took night classes and earned her master’s in public administration from the University of Oklahoma in 1973.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, from this “work on Seasat came GEOSAT, a satellite programmed to create computer models of Earth’s surface. By teaching a computer to account for gravity, tides, and other forces that act on Earth’s surface, West and her team created a program that could precisely calculate the orbits of satellites.” This laid the groundwork for the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Because of her skill in calculating complex mathematical equations, she also worked on other measurements that contributed to the accuracy of GPS.

In 1998 at age 68, Gladys was contemplating retirement when a sudden stroke forced her to stop working. However, she didn’t let that get in the way of her studies for her PhD in public administration and policy affairs, which she was awarded by Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 2000 at the age of 70. Dr. West, now 91, is still alive today and participates in activities at the Dahlgren Protestant Chapel, with Gideons International and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and along with her husband, regularly mentors young people. In 2020, Dr. West released her memoir, “It Began with A Dream.”

Her story may have gone unknown if it wasn’t for a short biography she sent to her former sorority and a 2018 Associated Press profile, which kicked off interview requests from around the world. That same year, Gladys was inducted into the U.S. Air Force Hall of Fame, the only Black woman to be so honored. She has also been inducted into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame, named one of the top 100 Women by the British Broadcasting Corporation, was a Dominion Energy Strong Men & Women recipient and has had a Senate Resolution honoring her accomplishments.

Fearless Females: Mary Katherine Goddard

Did you know that a woman signed the Declaration of Independence? Yes, you read that right. Mary Katherine Goddard’s name appears beneath those of our Founding Fathers.


Mary Katherine was born in New London, Connecticut, on June 16, 1738, to Dr. Giles Goddard, a physician and postmaster, and Sarah Updike Goddard. Mary Katherine was one of only two of their four children to live to adulthood. (No photos of her remain, but there is one that is often wrongly identified as her.)

Her mother tutored her in reading and math and then she attended New London’s public school, which taught girls for one hour a day when the boys’ lessons were over. There she learned Latin, French and science.

In 1755, Giles Goddard fell ill and was too sick to work, so her brother, William (then 15), went to New Haven to serve as a printer’s apprentice. Seven years later, Giles died and Mary Kathrine and her mother joined William in New Haven, where he owned a printing shop. Not long after, they founded Rhode Island’s first newspaper, the Providence Gazette.

William, always seeking a new adventure, moved from Providence to Philadelphia to Baltimore—starting newspapers in each city and leaving his mother and sister in charge each time he moved on. In 1768, Mary Katherine moved to Philadelphia with her mother. Two years later, Sarah died and William, who was in a fight with his financial partners, gave the Pennsylvania Chronicle to her. It was one of the largest printing shops in the colonies.

From 1771 – 1775, while William languished in debtor’s prison, Mary Katherine kept his businesses afloat. As he had done so many times before, in February 1774, William gave Mary Katherine control of the Maryland Journal, Baltimore’s first newspaper. William then concentrated his efforts on building a private postal service (one untouched by British rule that later became the U.S. Postal Service) and the masthead of the Maryland Journal was quietly changed to read “Published by M. K. Goddard.”

This was on the eve of the Revolution. By June 1774, most of the news on her front page was of Britain’s blockade of Boston Harbor. From then on, Mary Katherine’s paper became a tool of the Revolution, publishing Thomas Payne’s Common Sense in two parts, reporting on the first battles of the war and encouraging women to boycott British goods by growing their own flax and wool for clothing.

In July 1775, the Continental Congress approved William Goddard’s postal system and three months later named Mary Katherine Baltimore’s postmaster. This made her, in the words of the National Parks Service, “the first postmaster of Baltimore, the first female postmaster in the colonies, and eventually the first female postmaster in the United States.” According to the Smithsonian, it also “likely made her the United States’ only female employee when the nation was born in July 1776.”

Already familiar with her work and convened only blocks from her shop, Congress asked Mary Katherine to print the second version of the United States Declaration of Independence on Jan. 18, 1777, the first to bear the names of the signatories. At the bottom, it reads: “Baltimore, in Maryland; Printed by Mary Katherine Goddard.” According to the National Park Service, by using her full name instead of M.K. Goddard as she had on her newspapers, she “risked her life and her livelihood” in the event that the British government decided to charge her with treason.

Mary Katherine so excelled in her work that by 1779, the Maryland Journal had “as extensive a circulation as any newspaper in the United States.” Nonetheless, in 1784, William fired Mary Katherine from the Maryland Journal and took over as publisher. The reason is unknown, but it could have something to do with an incident years before when she refused to give up the name of a source for a controversial newspaper story and told the inquirers to talk to her brother, who was nearly banished from the United States because of it. Whatever the cause, the siblings never spoke again.

Mary Katherine remained Baltimore’s postmaster until October 1789 when newly appointed postmaster general Samuel Osgood replaced her with John White of Annapolis. The move was likely done for political reasons, as White was friends with Osgood, but most people took it as a sign of sexism. The official story was that because “supervision of nearby post offices was being added to the job description, more travelling might be necessary than a woman could undertake.”

The residents of Baltimore were outraged, with more than 200 demanding her reinstatement. Mary Katherine even wrote to George Washington and the Senate to try to get her job back. Washington refused to do anything and the Senate never responded, so Mary Katherine spent the rest of her life running a dry goods store and a bookstore.

When she died at the age of 78 in 1816, she freed her slave, Belinda Starling, “to recompense the faithful performance of duties to me,” and never having married or had children, left all of her worldly goods to her former slave.