A Trailblazer in Science: The Life of Rosalyn Sussman Yalow

Dr. Rosalyn Sussman Yalow was born to Russian immigrant parents in New York City on July 19, 1921, and grew up in the Bronx. Her upbringing was modest yet deeply enriched by her parents’ emphasis on education. Encouraged by her father, a laborer in the garment industry, and her mother, a seamstress, Rosalyn displayed an early aptitude for learning.

At fifteen, Rosalyn began Hunter College, an all-female, tuition-free university in New York. Her parents wanted their daughter to become a teacher. Rosalyn quickly realized that she wanted to pursue a different career path. In the words of a classmate,

“She was very single-minded. She knew — absolutely knew — she was going to become a physicist. She told this to anyone who would listen.”

As Rosalyn said about the decision,

“I was excited about achieving a career in physics. My family, being more practical, thought the most desirable position for me would be as an elementary school teacher.”

After finishing her degree, Rosalyn sought to enroll in a Ph.D. program in physics. However, this proved to be a struggle because she was a woman and Jewish. Finally, she received an offer from the University of Illinois – Urbana as a favor to one of her Hunter College professors. Upon accepting the offer, Rosalyn became the only woman among the 400 faculty and teaching assistants in the College of Engineering.

Following her studies, Rosalyn joined the Federal Telecommunication Laboratory for a year and then worked as a teacher at Hunter College. But it would be her job at the Bronx Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital that would define her career trajectory.

The idea that physics could impact medicine, or medical physics as it was called, was still a relatively new field. Rosalyn’s husband, a fellow physicist she met in graduate school, thought it could be a good field for her. Upon the suggestion, Rosalyn volunteered to do research with a medical physicist at Columbia University. That physicist would recommend Rosalyn to the position at the VA. As Rosalyn recalled,

“I volunteered to work in [Dr. Quimby’s] laboratory to gain research experience…She took me to see ‘The Chief,’ Dr. G. Failla, dean of American medical physicists. After talking to me for a while, he picked up the phone, dialed, and I heard him say, ‘Bernie, if you want to set up a radioisotope service, I have someone you must hire.'”

With that, Rosalyn joined the Bronx VA in 1947 as the Head of a new Radioisotope Unit. There, she would meet physician Solomon A. Berson, and over the next twenty-two years, the two collaborated on groundbreaking research.

Rosalyn’s and Solomon’s partnership resulted in the development of radioimmunoassay (RIA). This technique allowed for precisely measuring minute quantities of biological substances in blood and other bodily fluids. Its significance lay in its ability to detect hormones, enzymes, and other biological molecules at levels previously thought impossible. Some applications included diagnosing thyroid disorders and monitoring insulin levels in diabetes patients.

This innovation soon became an indispensable tool in medical research and clinical practice, opening new avenues for research in endocrinology, diabetes, just about “every field of medicine.” In 1959, Rosalyn and Solomon published their seminal paper on RIA, garring widespread acclaim and transforming medical diagnostics.

As the two brought their ideas to the medical world, they also took the onus of marketing their work. “We not only discovered radioimmunoassay, we had to popularize it,” Rosalyn said. They often traveled, about which Rosalyn said, “You don’t go to the West Coast for two days and come back on the red-eye unless you’re crazy like me.” Rosalyn, who had been described earlier in her career as a “cheerful little dark-haired person, not very imposing,” now had people worried that she was too aggressive. Yet, the people she worked most closely with, those in her lab, didn’t see her this way. She was warm, thinking about their comforts and doing her best to care for them.

For her work, Rosalyn received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977, becoming only the second woman to receive this honor in that category.

Throughout these hard-working years, Rosalyn balanced work with family life. She and her husband raised two children, and he often took on more of the responsibilities, though Rosalyn did her best to help with the household even after long days of work. For her, doing so was just as important as doing outstanding research. Still, it wasn’t an easy balance to strike, especially as Rosalyn was often away.

In 2011, Rosalyn passed away at the age of 89.

Dr. Rosalyn Sussman Yalow in a laboratory. She's smiling as she uses a long pipette to add a liquid to a beaker.
Dr. Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, 1977


Click here to read a snapshot biography of another scientist, Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu.

“A Trailblazer in Science: The Life of Rosalyn Sussman Yalow” sources

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 the U.S. Civil War

On the surface, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was a simple proposal, democratic even. It would take the vast Nebraska Territory, carve it into two separate entities—Kansas and Nebraska—and let the settlers decide the fate of slavery in each through popular sovereignty.

Instead, the Act plunged the U.S. into turmoil that would lead the country to a Civil War within a few years.

Slavery had been a contested issue from the earliest years of U.S. history. A number of Northern states that had initially allowed slavery began banning the practice throughout the late 1700s and early 1800s. With the Missouri Compromise in 1820, the border between slave and non-slave states was drawn, with the sections becoming known as the North and the South. The former didn’t allow for slavery, while the latter did.

As the century progressed, the idea of Manifest Destiny, a national desire to expand the country westward, became more prominent. With the expansion came important questions.

Amongst them were:

  • How to motivate people to move into the new territories?
  • What efficient transportation would connect the country East to West like the Mississippi River did North to South?
  • Would the new territories and states have slavery or not?

To the latter question, Northern abolitionists didn’t want slavery included in the new regions. Southern leaders did.

The political driver behind the Kansas—Nebraska Act initiative was a young Senator from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas. Senator Douglas was a staunch advocate of Manifest Destiny. He also had an interest in the transportation question. Senator Douglas was one of the biggest advocates for building a transcontinental railroad through Chicago. And while the following may be conjecture, he also wanted to make a more prominent name for himself on the national stage since he likely already had aspirations to run for President, which he would do in 1860.

In the cauldron of conflicting interests and ideologies, Senator Douglas saw an opportunity to strike a compromise that would serve his objectives: organize the Nebraska Territory for settlement while securing a desirable route for the transcontinental railroad. He proposed to repeal the Missouri Compromise, divide the Nebraska Territory into two separate entities (in part to potentially keep a power balance of slave and non-slave states), and let the settlers decide the fate of slavery through popular sovereignty. This latter point was particularly controversial, as the Nebraska Territory would have banned slavery under the Missouri Compromise.

After months of debate, the Senate and House of Representatives approved the bill amidst a charged atmosphere. On May 30, 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed it into law.

Once the Act passed, settlers representing both sides of the slavery debate flooded into the newly opened territories. Kansas, in particular, became the battleground for a brutal struggle between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers. The two groups clashed in violent skirmishes, earning the territory the moniker of “Bleeding Kansas.” This way of life would continue until 1861.

The impact of the Kansas-Nebraska Act extended far beyond the borders of the frontier. It shattered the delicate equilibrium of American politics, laying bare the irreconcilable differences between North and South. In the halls of Congress, compromise gave way to confrontation. Also out of the discord came a newly formed Republican Party, which emerged as a formidable force dedicated to halting the spread of slavery. Their efforts would come to fruition as they came to power with the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860.


Medgar Evers: A Life of Courage

Freedom has never been free…I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, die gladly, if that would make a better life for them.” – Medgar Evers

Portrait of Medgar Evers, looking forward towards the camera, dressed in a suit and tie.
Medgar Evers, 1963

Medgar Evers was a leader who didn’t care for fame or money. The “quiet integrationist” he was called. He wanted to make a difference and improve life for others. As his wife described him, he is sensitive “to other human beings; their needs, hopes, joys, and aspirations…Perhaps most important, Medgar was able to turn hate into love.”

As a child, Medgar was studious, shy, and “the conscience of his friends.” Among the qualities and experiences he took from his parents, it was their outspoken nature, especially regarding their convictions, that Medgar adopted.

At 18, Medgar joined the U.S. Army and fought from 1943 to 1945 during World War II. After the war, he went to college and then started a family. But it was his work for the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s that became his calling. As the Field Secretary for the organization in Mississippi, he helped organize boycotts and set up local NAACP chapters.

One of Medgar’s struggles was living daily with fear. He was afraid for his life because of his position in the movement. As his wife recalled,

“We lived with that fear day in and day out. We learned to deal with the threatening telephone calls. We lived with the cars that circled our home late at night. We lived with the rocks and debris thrown at us. We talked about the possibility of death many times.”

Medgar would admit to being afraid but then say, “I can’t let that stop me from doing what I must.”

These fears, however, were very real. In 1963, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home. Shortly after, someone tried to run Medgar over. Then, in the early morning of Wednesday, June 12, 1963, when Medgar returned home after a usual long day from work, wearing a T-shirt that read, “Jim Crow Must Go,” he was shot in the back. He died about an hour later.

It would take 30 years for the man who committed the murder to be found guilty and sent to prison for life.


Click here to read a snapshot biography of civil rights movement leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


  • Elliot, Jeffrey, and Medgar Evers. “MEDGAR EVERS a Personal Portrait.” Negro History Bulletin, vol. 40, no. 6, 1977, pp. 760–63. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44176405. Accessed 1 May 2024.
  • Medgar Evers, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right, wearing jacket and tie. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/93516441/>.
  • St. Lawrence, Genevieve. Medgar Evers. United States, Raintree, 2004.
  • Tisdale, John Rochelle, 1958-. Medgar Evers (1925-1963) and the Mississippi Press, dissertation, December 1996; Denton, Texas. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc278976/: accessed May 1, 2024), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu;

Soulful Sounds: The Life of Duke Ellington

“Recently, a friend asked me why I thought American Jazz was so much the vogue in other countries. I said, I thought the reason was that jazz means freedom and that today, freedom is the big word around the world. Well, if jazz means freedom, then jazz means peace because peace can come to mankind only when man is free.” – Duke Ellington

Black and white historical photograph of Duke Ellington at a music performance. He's dressed in a suit and tie, and has a big smile, while surrounded by bandmates playing the trumpet.
Duke Ellington, circa 1946

Snapshot Biography

In the sultry nights of Harlem amongst the bustling avenues of New York City, the legend of Duke Ellington as a musician was born. “Duke was the quintessence of soul. His music described life in the black community, caught the spirit of the ghetto, the humor and pathos of life,” wrote researcher and NAACP leader Gloster B. Current.

Born in Washington D.C. in 1899, Edward Ellington became “Duke” in his early years, when, as a youngster, he possessed a regal air and an elegance that belied his tender years. This noble manner and penchant for sartorial splendor earned him the moniker “Duke” from family and friends.

From an early age, Duke displayed a musical talent. He began piano lessons at the age of seven and was soon drawn to the sounds of ragtime and jazz. Inspired by the performances he saw and the burgeoning jazz scene of the early 20th century, he honed his skills as a musician.

In 1923, Duke moved to New York City, where he formed a band, the Washingtonians, and where life came with much struggle. Without much money and having to eat at parties, Duke and the band played anything people wanted to hear. Duke would reflect on the time by saying, “Answering requests. We sang anything and everything—pop songs, jazz songs, dirty songs, torch songs, Jewish songs.”

The band’s stardom began in 1928 when they became the house act at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem. Soon to become known as the Duke Ellington Orchestra, they would grow into one of the most famous and enduring jazz bands in history. With Duke at the helm as both bandleader and composer, the group revolutionized jazz music, pioneering new styles and techniques.

Duke led the way with his innovative approach to composition. He experimented with orchestration, blending elements of jazz, blues, classical music, and popular songs to create a sound that was uniquely his own. Among his roughly 2,000 compositions, records such as “Mood Indigo,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and “Sophisticated Lady,” are now considered classics of the jazz repertoire.

Duke and his orchestra toured extensively throughout his career in the United States and abroad. They performed in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival.

In addition to his music work, Duke was a pioneering figure in the fight for civil rights. At a time when racial segregation was still widespread in America, he used his platform to advocate for equality and social justice. He often incorporated racial pride and identity themes into his music, challenging prevailing attitudes and stereotypes. For all his work, Duke received numerous awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Black and white historical photograph of Duke Ellington in his later years, playing the piano.
Duke Ellington, circa 1969

Duke continued to perform and compose until his death on May 24, 1974.


“Soulful Sounds: The Life of Duke Ellington” sources:

  • Current, Gloster B. “Duke Ellington.” The Black Perspective in Music, vol. 2, no. 2, 1974, pp. 173–78. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1214233. Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.
  • Erickson, Roy. Jazz composer and bandleader Duke Ellington performing with his orchestra at the Pine Crest School – Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 1968 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/14570>
  • George, Luvenia A. “Duke Ellington the Man and His Music.” Music Educators Journal, vol. 85, no. 6, 1999, pp. 15–21. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/3399516. Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.
  • Gottlieb, William P. Portrait of Duke Ellington, Cat Anderson, and Sidney De Paris?, Aquarium, New York, N.Y., ca. Nov. , Monographic. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/gottlieb.02381/>.
  • Tennen, Gabe S. “Duke Ellington’s New York Rise.” Museum of the City of New York, https://www.mcny.org/story/duke-ellingtons-new-york-rise

Mark Twain: America’s Literary Icon

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” – Ernest Hemingway

Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in Missouri, would become an iconic writer, humorist, and lecturer, living a life of wit, adventure, and social commentary while leaving an indelible mark on American literature.

Black-and-white portrait of Mark Twain, dressed in a three piece suit, showcasing the iconic author's distinguished appearance and literary persona.
Mark Twain, 1907

Life began for Mark with much hardship and tragedy. His father died when Mark was eleven, after which the young boy left school to work as a printer’s apprentice. During this time, he developed a passion for writing and honed his craft by contributing articles and sketches to local newspapers.

In his early adult years, Mark chose to work as a steamboat pilot. He said about that decision that growing amongst his friends, “there was but one permanent ambition.” “Pilot was the grandest position of all. The pilot, even in those days of trivial wages, had a princely salary – from a hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars a month, and no board to pay.”

And it was from this work that Samuel Clemens chose to become Mark Twain, the name referring to a term used by pilots about a river depth that was safe for a steamboat. In 1861, Mark began using his now-famous pen name while writing for newspapers in Nevada. There, his writing captured the essence of the American West, blending frontier life with social commentary and sharp wit. Mark began to gain recognition for his unique American humor and satire.

Mark’s literary breakthrough came with the publication of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” in 1865, a humorous tale that brought him national acclaim. This success propelled him into a prolific writing career, producing timeless classics such as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876) and its sequel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1885), which is often considered his masterpiece.

Along with fiction writing, Mark used his keen observations of society and vocal criticisms of injustice in writing nonfiction. Those works included “The Gilded Age” (1873), co-written with Charles Dudley Warner, which lampooned the excesses and hypocrisies of American society during the post-Civil War era. With his sharp wit and keen insight, Mark earned a reputation as one of America’s foremost social commentators.

Despite his literary success, Mark faced numerous financial setbacks throughout his life. He invested heavily in various business ventures, including a failed publishing company and an ill-fated typesetting machine. These financial troubles, coupled with personal tragedies such as the death of his wife and children, cast a shadow over his later years.

Nevertheless, Mark remained a beloved and admired figure. He continued to lecture and write until his death on April 21, 1910, in Redding, Connecticut. His legacy endures as one of America’s great literary voices, whose works continue to entertain, provoke thought, and inspire generations of readers.


“Mark Twain: America’s Literary Icon” sources:

Divided Nation: The 1860 U.S. Presidential Election


The 1860 U.S. Presidential election was one of the most important and controversial in the country’s history. Characterized by four candidates from a split Democratic Party, a Republican Party making its second presidential run, and an emergent Constitutional Union Party, the election would see undemocratic elements, all the candidates winning electoral college votes, and a culmination of what had become a national quarrel over slavery.


Slavery, which had existed in the U.S. since its earliest days of colonial settlement in the 1600s, had been debated for years, with some states like New York, which initially allowed it, choosing to abolish the practice. But in the South, slavery had become an integral part of the economy and way of life. While there were dissenting voices, the region, in large part, wanted to continue the practice.

The debate fervor grew in the middle of the 19th century as the U.S. saw important changes that impacted the slavery conversation. Abolitionists were coming together to help enslaved people escape through the Underground Railroad. That led to policy changes like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, putting those who helped also at risk.

The debate further intensified as America expanded its territories, bringing the question of slavery’s extension into new regions to the forefront of national discourse. As territories and states became part of the nation, one of the central questions was whether or not slavery should be permitted in those regions and who would make that decision: the inhabitants or the federal government.

Then, one of the most important events leading up to the election occurred in October 1859. An abolitionist by the name of John Brown, who believed that “slavery is a state of war,” led a group of about twenty in a raid on the town of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. They captured influential people and took control of the federal armory and arsenal. But within a day, the rebellion was quelled by U.S. Marines led by Colonel Robert E. Lee.

While John and a number of his men were captured and later executed after being found guilty, the use of violence had a profound effect on the psyche of Southerners, deepening the divide between North and South and heightening tensions. In some places, hostility towards Northerners grew. Some Southerners chose to stop or reduce trade with the North in hopes that Northerners would understand the importance of respecting Southern rights. As one newspaper wrote then, “The Harpers Ferry invasion has advanced the cause of disunion more than any other event that has happened since the formation of the Government.”

All this set the background for the election.

The Candidates & Party Stance on Slavery

Four political parties would nominate candidates for the election.

  • The Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln, who had not held a political position since serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois from 1847 to 1849, as its candidate. The party took a moderate stance on slavery, opposing its expansion, though some delegates favored its total abolition.
  • The Democratic Party chose Stephen A. Douglas, a U.S. Senator from Illinois, as their candidate. On the issue of slavery, the party’s stance was for settlers in each territory to decide. This position led to Southern Democrats breaking from the party and holding their own convention. They chose the sitting Vice President, John C. Breckinridge, as their candidate.
  • The final party was new to the political scene. Named the Constitutional Party, it didn’t take much of a stance on slavery, preferring to keep things as they were: “The Union as it is, the Constitution as it is,” they said. Their candidate was John Bell, a former U.S. Secretary of War and, most recently, a U.S. Senator from Tennessee.


“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” – Abraham Lincoln

Despite the Republican Party’s attempts to adopt a moderate stance on slavery, Southern states perceived Abraham Lincoln, because of quotes such as the one above, as a significant threat to the institution. This led to ten Southern states excluding Abraham from their ballots.

While this was undoubtedly a setback, Abraham had several advantages going into the election. First, there was the split among Democrats. Secondly, the voting population in the North was much greater than in the South. Another advantage for Abraham came from a new organization called the Wide Awakes, which the Republican Party developed. Made up of younger men, the group reached a membership of about 500,000 around the election. Abraham, who followed the tradition of the time of presidential candidates not campaigning, received much benefit from the campaign activities of this group.

The election saw an unprecedented 81.2% participation rate, the highest in Presidential election history up to that point. The results were as follows:

  • Abraham Lincoln: 39.8% of the popular vote, 18 states, 180 Electoral Votes
  • John Breckinridge: 18.1% of the popular vote, 11 states, 72 Electoral Votes
  • John Bell: 12.6% of the popular vote, 3 states, 39 Electoral Votes
  • Stephen A. Douglas: 29.5% of the popular vote, 1 state, 12 Electoral Votes

Abraham Lincoln was elected on November 6, 1860, and became President on March 4, 1861. Between December 1860 and April 1861, eleven Southern states would secede from the Union.


Impossible Mile: The Roger Bannister Legacy

People said running a mile in under four minutes couldn’t be done. It was impossible. Some even feared that attempting such a feat could prove fatal.

A few men had come close over the years. In 1863, one man ran a downhill mile in 4:02. Though it didn’t count as a record, it was the closest official time to four minutes and remained so until 1944. That year and the following, two men ran the distance on a track in a little over 4 minutes and one second.

But neither could break the barrier. Then came Roger Bannister.

“In Oxford, I had been told, a man without a sport is like a ship without a sail…Of all sports, running seemed to me the only one for which I had any aptitude.” – Roger Bannister

Roger was a medical school student who also ran track. But, he was competitive and believed in the importance of pushing oneself. “The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win,” he would say.

His talent and hard work had already led to great results. Roger had been a champion runner for years, representing the British in the 1952 Olympics, in which he finished in fourth place in the 1,500-meter race. Like the two record holders, Roger had come close to the four-minute barrier but had not been able to break it. But Roger believed that running a sub-four-minute mile was possible, and after changing his workout regiment, set his sights on doing so.

The fateful day was May 6, 1954. For Roger, it began as usual with work in the hospital. Then, he made his way to the track. Despite unfavorable weather conditions, with rain and a significant wind blowing across the track, Roger embarked on his historic run, assisted by Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, two friends and fellow athletes who would serve as pacemakers.

As Chris B. led the first part of the race, Roger was concerned they were not running fast enough. “Faster!” he shouted, his body brimming with pent-up energy from rest and preparation. But Chris B. didn’t change the pace and Roger’s worries began to ease when the time of 57.5 seconds was shouted after the first quarter mile. They were ahead of pace. Chris C. took over midway, maintaining the pace and setting the stage for Roger to unleash his final sprint.

Roger crossed the finish line, his body giving in to the sheer exhaustion of his efforts. The announcer’s voice broke through the silence, confirming what seemed like a dream: 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. He had done it.

Roger wrote about the moment,

“I felt suddenly and gloriously free of the burden of athletic ambition that I had been carrying for years. No words could be invented for such supreme happiness, eclipsing all other feelings. I thought at that moment I could never again reach such a climax of single-mindedness. I felt bewildered and overpowered. I knew it would be some time before I caught up with myself.”

Just a couple of months later, two more athletes ran a sub-four-minute mile. As of June 2022, 1,755 have achieved the feat, with the current world record in the distance set at 3:43.13.

Roger’s running career ended when he retired at the end of 1954. He then dedicated himself to his work as a neurologist and raising a family. In 2018, he passed away at the age of 88.


Click here to read a story of another champion runner, Thomas Longboat.

The Impossible Mile: Roger Bannister’s Legacy Sources

The Legendary Harlem Hellfighters

Group of smiling Harlem Hellfighters in uniform with service medals, on deck of a ship, exuding camaraderie and pride upon return from WWI.
Some Harlem Hellfighters soldiers upon returning home for World War I.

Officially, they were named the 369th Infantry Regiment, a black American unit during World War I. But as the unit began fighting, the French and German armies both gave this regiment the same nickname. They called them the Harlem Hellfighters.

The U.S. at that time was still ripe with racism and segregation. That, however, didn’t stop tens of thousands of black American men from becoming combat soldiers in the war. The 369th Infantry Regiment first began as a New York National Guard unit, with many of its roughly few thousand members living in Harlem.

As the U.S. began preparing for entry into the war, they federalized this New York National Guard Unit. And that’s how they became the 369th Infantry Regiment. The group was sent to upstate New York for training.

But here, they experienced racism from locals, leading to rising tensions among the soldiers. The U.S. War Department debated on what to do. They had three choices: keep the soldiers in town and deal with the racism, move the soldiers to another U.S. city, but that would send a signal that harassment works, or send the soldiers abroad. The War Department chose the latter option, sending the regiment to France, where they joined the French Army, as the U.S. Army was segregated.

Throughout the war, the Harlem Hellfighters would distinguish themselves on the battlefield with remarkable bravery and endurance, spending more time in combat than any other American unit. No one from the regiment was ever captured, and the group, because of their leader’s perspective, never retreated. But many of the soldiers were killed. The achievements of the regiment earned them the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military honor, and 171 members of the unit received medals of valor, among other awards.

Along with their might and significance on the battlefield, the Harlem Hellfighters also impacted European music culture through the regiment band led by the legendary James Reese Europe. A virtuoso musician and composer, James and the band are credited with introducing jazz to European audiences, leaving a lasting impact on the music scene. As a reviewer wrote about one performance,

“If I live to be 101, I shall never forget that second night, which was a night of a splendid, flawless full moon. We stood with the regimental staff on the terraced lawn of the chief house in a half-deserted town five miles back from the trenches, and down below us in the main street, the band played plantation airs and hundreds of Negro soldiers joined in and sang the words. Behind the masses of upturned dark faces was a ring of white ones where the remaining natives of the place clustered with their heads wagging in time to the tunes . . . . When they got to “Way Down Upon The Swanee River” I wanted to cry, and when the drum major [Sissle], who had a splendid baritone voice, sang, as an interpolated number, “Joan of Arc,” first in English and then in excellent French, the villagers openly cried; and an elderly peasant, heavily whiskered, with tears of joyous and thankful enthusiasm running down his bearded cheeks, was with difficulty restrained from throwing his arms about the soloist and kissing him.”

Upon the regiment’s return home, W.E.B. DuBois, one of the most prominent advocates for equality at the time, said,

“Make way for democracy. We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America or know the reason why. We return from fighting. We return fighting.”



Kady Brownell: Defying Gender Norms in the Civil War

Photograph of Kady Brownell in uniform, standing with a rifle and bayonet, circa 1861, representing her service in the Civil War as a vivandière and color bearer.
Kady Brownell, circa 1861

Kady Brownell Snapshot Biography

Born in 1842 in a British Army tent in Kaffraria, South Africa, to a French mother and a Scottish father, Kady Brownell’s early life was marked by the tragic death of her mother. With her father away as part of the British military, Kady was cared for by a local family who would eventually bring her to Providence, Rhode Island​.

In the early 1860s, Kady met and fell in love with Robert Brownell while working as a weaver in a textile mill. The two forged a deep bond, eventually living as husband and wife. However, their lives took a dramatic turn with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Robert enlisted in the 1st Regiment Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army.

Refusing to be separated from her husband, Kady accompanied him into war. At a time when the idea of women in combat was unfathomable to most, she served openly alongside Robert after earning the respect of the soldiers and permission from the regiment’s commander. She transcended traditional roles, transitioning from vivandière—a support position typically available to women—to color bearer, a role steeped in valor, risk, and significance. Color bearers were often responsible for rallying and guiding troops during battle. As often was the case for them, Kady had to take a position at the front of the regiment, very much in harm’s way.

As a soldier, she actively and bravely participated in combat while saving fellow soldiers’ lives. In one situation, she saved the lives of fellow soldiers from friendly fire. As written by one biographer,

“Just as a number of Union regiments were getting into their battle positions on the morning of March 14, members of the 5th Rhode Island came out of a clump of woods from an unexpected direction, giving the appearance that they might be a disguised rebel force preparing to attack. Realizing that a misunderstanding might lead the regiments already in line to open fire, and with no fear for her own safety, tradition has it that Brownell—who had moved to the rear as ordered—ran forward into clear view of those already in place, carrying her regiment’s flag and waving it wildly until the 5th Rhode Island soldiers’ identity became clear to surrounding regiments.”

Kady’s military service was a groundbreaking challenge to the era’s gender barriers, earning her the profound respect of her peers. After the war, in a testament to her service and that respect, Kady became the only woman to receive discharge papers from the Union Army. She was granted a pension and became a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans.

In later years, Kady said in an interview with a reporter about the war,

“The war, with all its legacy of bitterness and hatred is over, and in the hearts of these brave men who lost the day there is nothing but a tender love and trust in us who saved the Union. For myself, I did my duty, under discipline, and with that I am content until it shall please God to call me.”

Kady passed away in 1915 at the age of 72.



Physicist Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu

“I have always felt that in physics, and probably in other endeavors, too, you must have total commitment. It is not just a job. It is a way of life.” – Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu

Photograph of Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu seated at a desk with experimental equipment, adjusting a control knob. She appears focused on her work, surrounded by papers and electronic panels with dials and cables. Chien-Shiung is wearing a traditional Chinese dress, reflecting her heritage.
Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu

Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu Snapshot Biography

Some said that Chien-Shiung Wu was the foremost female physicist and one of the most important physicists, male or female, of her time.

Born in 1912, Chien-Shiung grew up in the small village of Liuhe near Shanghai. In those days, women in China received little, if any, education. But Chien-Shiung wanted to learn. And she was lucky. Her father opened and operated a school, one of the first in the country to allow girls to attend. Their home was also rich in learning and full of books and newspapers.

With a seemingly insatiable desire to learn, Chien-Shiung attended Nanjing Central University, graduating with the highest honors. Then, with luck again coupleing hard work again, her uncle offered to pay for more education. She went to the U.S., as China didn’t offer Ph.D. programs in physics at the time.

Intending to study at the University of Michigan, Chien-Shiung’s first stop in the U.S. was in San Francisco, where the ship she traveled to the U.S. on landed. While in the area, she visited a friend at Berkeley who introduced her to a Chinese graduate student in physics. After a tour of the facilities and an introduction to Ernest Lawrence, a Nobel Laureate in physics at the university, who was so impressed by Chien-Shiung that he offered any additional financial support she needed so that she could join the physics program, Chien-Shiung decided to change her plans. U.C. Berkeley became her new home. And the graduate student who gave Chien-Shiung that tour would become her husband.

“Chien-Shiung was very ambitious. She frequently quoted Madame Curie as her role model. She wanted to excel. I could feel her determination, and was confident that she could accomplish whatever she wanted.” – U.C. Berkeley classmate

Another classmate said, “If the experiment was done by Wu, it must be correct.”

After excelling in her studies, Chien-Shiung received a PhD in physics in 1940. Finding work, however, proved to be a challenge. Berkeley, like all the other top physics programs, didn’t hire women. She was, however, able to stay on as a post-doctoral fellow.

As she began working in her new role, the local newspaper Oakland Tribute wrote a story about her. The story included the following,

“A petite Chinese girl worked side by side with some top US scientists in the laboratory studying nuclear collisions. This girl is the new member of the Berkeley physics research team. Ms. Wu, or more appropriately Dr. Wu, looks as though she might be an actress or an artist or a daughter of wealth in search of Occidental culture. She could be quiet and shy in front of strangers, but very confident and alert in front of physicists and graduate students. China is always on her mind. She was so passionate and excited whenever “China” and “democracy” were referred to, as democracy meant so much in the 1940s. She is preparing to return and contribute to the rebuilding of China.”

Not long after, in 1942, Chien-Shiung was offered a position as an assistant professor at Smith College in Massachusetts. Shortly after, with Ernest Lawrence’s recommendation, she became an Associate Professor of Physics at Princeton University, the first female faculty member in the department’s history. And in 1945, she moved to Columbia University, where she would work for the rest of her career and become the first female tenured physics professor in university history.

Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu stands in a laboratory among complex experimental physics apparatus. She is smiling, looking directly at the camera, and dressed in a white lab coat over traditional clothing. The background is filled with an array of scientific equipment including stands, tubes, and wires indicative of mid-20th century experimental physics research.
Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, 1963

Throughout her career, Chien-Shiung would often work twelve hour days, conducting important and significant research on a number of topics that impacted physics and even biology and medicine. She would disprove what people thought to be fact, about which she would we say, “It is the courage to doubt what has long been established, the incessant search for its verification and proof, that pushed the wheel of science forward.” And she would have findings that would bring new knowledge to science. Among the many awards and honors she would receive for her work, Chien-Shiung became the President of the American Physical Society.

Chien-Shiung passed away in 1997.


“Physicist Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu” Sources: