The legend that was Mary Fields

She drank whiskey, swore often, and smoked handmade cigars. She wore pants under her skirt and a gun under her apron. At six feet tall and two hundred pounds, Mary Fields was an intimidating woman.

Mary lived in Montana, in a town called Cascade. She was a special member of the community there. All schools would close on her birthday, and though women were not allowed entry into saloons, she was given special permission by the mayor to come in anytime and to any saloon she liked.

Mary Fields
Mary Fields

But Mary wasn’t from Montana. She was born into enslavement in Tennessee sometime in the early 1830s, and lived enslaved for more than thirty years until slavery was abolished. As a free woman, life led her first to Florida to work for a family and then Ohio when part of the family moved.

When Mary was 52, her close friend who lived in Montana became ill with pneumonia. Upon hearing the news, Mary dropped everything and came to nurse her friend back to health. Her friend soon recovered and Mary decided to stay in Montana settling in Cascade.

Her beginning in Cascade wasn’t smooth. To make ends meet, she first tried her hand at the restaurant business. She opened a restaurant, but she wasn’t much of a chef. And she was also too generous, never refusing to serve a customer who couldn’t pay. So the restaurant failed within a year.

But then in 1895, when in her sixties, Mary, or as “Stagecoach Mary” as she was sometimes called because she never missed a day of work, became the second woman and first African American to work as a mail carrier in the U.S. She got the job because she was the fastest applicant to hitch six horses.

Eventually she retired to a life of running a laundry business. And babysitting all the kids in town. And going to baseball games. And being friends with much of the townsfolk.

This was Mary Fields. A rebel, a legend.

Note:

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“The legend that was Mary Fields” sources:

Photograph of Mary taken circa 1895 – Wikimedia Commons.

To cite:

“The legend that was Mary Fields.” Historical Snapshots.

A quote from Marie Curie

Marie Curie

“All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.”

– Marie Curie, the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize and the first person to win the prize twice. She won the award for physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911.

“A quote from Marie Curie” sources: Portrait of Marie taken in 1911 – Wikimedia CommonsPierre Curie (1923), as translated by Charlotte Kellogg and Vernon Lyman Kellogg, p. 162 – Marie Curie Wikiquote

Note: Please click here to read our Snapshot Biography of Marie Curie.

WWII hero Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake
Nancy Wake

In look, Nancy Wake was glamorous; in personality, she was a fearless fighter. Rebellious in her way of being, she was born in New Zealand, but by 1940, had lived in Australia, the U.S., the U.K., Austria, and France.

While living in Vienna during the late 1930s, Nancy experienced Jewish men and women being beaten in the streets by Nazi gangs. She vowed to do anything she could to stop the Nazi movement. “I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas,” she would say.

Nancy joined the resistance, becoming a courier and escort for Allied soldiers and refugees looking to leave France. “It was much easier for us, you know, to travel all over France. A woman could get out of a lot of trouble that a man could not,” she remarked regarding the work.

She took part in many missions, and her life was in constant danger. At one time, she was the most wanted person by the Gestapo. But was always able to elude capture, a skill which earned her the nickname, “White Mouse.” Her husband, however, was captured and executed for not sharing information about her whereabouts.

Nancy became one of the most decorated servicewomen of the war by the Allies. Looking back, she would remark, “I was never afraid. I was too busy to be afraid.”

Note: If you enjoyed this snapshot biography of Nancy Wake, please consider supporting Historical Snapshots with a donation. To donate, please visit our Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/historicalsnapshots. Your support is much appreciated.

“WWII hero Nancy Wake” Sources: “Nancy Wake” – Wikipedia / Farewell to Nancy Wake, the mouse who ran rings around the Nazis, The Guardian / Australian War Memorial

Janusz Korczak and his children

“He told the orphans they were going out into the country, so they ought to be cheerful. At last they would be able to exchange the horrible suffocating city walls for meadows of flowers, streams where they could bathe, woods full of berries and mushrooms. He told them to wear their best clothes, and so they came out into the yard, two by two, nicely dressed and in a happy mood.”

Janusz Korczak portrait, taken circa 1930
Janusz Korczak, circa 1930

Then he walked with them, “his head bent forward, holding the hand of a child, without a hat, a leather belt around his waist, and wearing high boots.”

Janusz Korczak ran an orphanage in Warsaw before the war started. Then in 1940 his orphanage was forced to move to the Warsaw ghetto. Janusz went with the children.

He had opportunities to leave the ghetto. The resistance wanted to help him escape. He chose to stay, to be with the children, to be with them to the end, to that day in early August of 1942, when he had to convince the SS men to let him go with the children to Treblinka, an extermination camp.

“I exist not to be loved and admired, but to love and act. It is not the duty of those around me to love me. Rather, it is my duty to be concerned about the world, about man.”

This was Janusz Korczak.

“Janusz Korczak and his children” sources: Portrait taken in Warsaw, Poland, circa 1930 – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Miedzynarodowe Stowarzyszenie im. Janusza Korczaka / Wikimedia Commons / “He told the orphans…” quote: Jerzy Waldorff, Władysław Szpilman, The Pianist. Page 96. / “I exist not be…” quote: Warsaw Ghetto Memoirs of Janusz Korczak / “His head bent…” quote: Ghetto eyewitness, Joshua Perle – Nick Shepley (7 December 2015). Hitler, Stalin and the Destruction of Poland: Explaining History. Andrews UK Limited. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-78333-143-7 / 

Hazel Lee, WASP pilot during WWII

Hazel Lee loved to swim, and play handball, and play cards, and cook. And she loved to fly planes.

About flying, her sister described the love of aviation for Hazel as she “enjoyed the danger and doing something that was new to Chinese girls.”

Hazel Lee, in her pilot gear, leaning on the wing of a plane and smoking a cigarette
Hazel Lee, 1932

During WWII, the U.S. didn’t have enough male pilots. So the Women Airforce Service Pilots was created.

Hazel was invited to join. And the young woman, born to Chinese parents in Portland, Oregon accepted, even though WASP pilots were not officially considered part of the military and thus received no military benefits.

Her attitude towards work was described well by a fellow pilot — “I’ll take and deliver anything.”

Calm and fearless, she had a great attitude and a sense of humor. And she loved to play pranks. She “used her lipstick to inscribe Chinese characters on the tail of her plane and the planes of her fellow pilots. One lucky fellow who happened to be a bit on the chubby side, had his plane dubbed (unknown to him) ‘Fat Ass.’”

On November 23rd, 1944, flying in bad weather in North Dakota, she crashed with another plane upon landing. She suffered severe burns and two days later she passed away.

Of the 38 female pilots to die during WWII, Hazel was the last one.

“Hazel Lee, WASP pilot during WWII” sources:

United States Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Wikipedia

Notes:

Click here to read a snapshot biography of WASP Director, Jackie Cochran.

The last words of Sophie Scholl

“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

– Sophie Scholl

These were the last words of Sophie Scholl, a 21 year old college student at the University of Munich and member of the non violent White Rose group, who were dedicated to passive resistance against the Nazi government. She was executed for passing out leaflets about the resistance.

A mini biography of Eleanor Roosevelt

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.'” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt

Biography of Eleanor Roosevelt

Early years and marriage

Born in Manhattan in 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt suffered much trauma in her early years. At two, she was with her parents aboard a ship that crashed. Everyone survived but left Eleanor fearful of ships and seawater. A few years later, when Eleanor was eight, her mother and a younger brother died from diphtheria. Less than two years later, her father also passed away after a seizure shortly after a fall. Eleanor was just shy of her tenth birthday at the time.

After her parents passed, Eleanor went to live with her grandmother. She continued suffering from the traumas and was also dealing with worries about her looks. But in these years, Eleanor began to find space for joy. She fell in love with field hockey. So much so that as she reflected on life, she remarked that her happiest day was when she made her high school field hockey team. And Eleanor’s self-confidence began growing with support from the school headmistress, who was known for being a great educator and teaching women to be independent. As a result, Eleanor thrived and was beloved in school.

It was also during these years that love came into Eleanor’s life. In 1902, she met Franklin D. Roosevelt while on a train ride. A romance blossomed, and they became engaged the following year. Eleanor’s uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, walked her down the aisle when she and Franklin married.

Eleanor Roosevelt in her wedding dress, 1905
Eleanor Roosevelt in her wedding dress, 1905

Political Life & Later Years

Eleanor’s husband became a politician. And while his career grew in stature, eventually becoming President, Eleanor’s role as a public figure grew as well. “I think I have a good deal of my Uncle Theodore in me, because I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on,” she would say.

Eleanor worked tirelessly. A day in her life could consist of travel to give multiple speeches while writing an article for a paper and letters to friends and associates. She used her platform for social progress, becoming known for adamantly standing up for equality, including disobeying segregation laws in the South. The rules needed to change is how Eleanor lived and opportunities for disadvantaged people needed to be created.

Eleanor Roosevelt photograph, 1940
Eleanor Roosevelt, 1940

Eleanor believed in a better world, or in her words, a world in which “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

“A mini biography of Eleanor Roosevelt” sources:

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.'” – “As quoted in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1944; 1948) by Dale Carnegie; though Roosevelt has sometimes been credited with the originating the expression, ‘Damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ is set in quote marks, indicating she herself was quoting a common expression in saying this. Actually, this saying was coined back even earlier, 1836, by evangelist Lorenzo Dow in his sermons”- Eleanor Roosevelt Wikiquote / Photograph taken circa 1932 – Eleanor Roosevelt, -1962. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004670795/> / Wikimedia Commons / U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, NAID: 195393 & 195376 / Wikimedia Commons

Susie King Taylor quote about sympathy during war

Susie King Taylor
Susie King Taylor

“It seems strange how our aversion to seeing suffering is overcome in war, how we are able to see the most sickening sights, such as men with their limbs blown off and mangled by the deadly shells, without a shudder; and instead of turning away, how we hurry to assist in alleviating their pain, bind up their wounds, and press the cool water to their parched lips, with feelings only of sympathy and pity.”

– Susie King Taylor, nurse during the U.S. Civil War

“Susie King Taylor quote about sympathy during war” sources: Susie King Taylor, known as the first African American Army nurse. [Boston: published by the author, 1902 from a photograph taken between 1862 and 1866] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2018663038/>.

Note: Please click here to read our Snapshot Biography of Susie King Taylor.

WWII hero Hannah Szenes

Hannah Szenes

Hannah Szenes once wrote, “There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”

She was a playwright and a poet, and she was a Special Operations Executive (SOE) paratrooper, one “of 37 Jewish parachutists of Mandate Palestine parachuted by the British Army into Yugoslavia during the Second World War to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to the German death camp at Auschwitz.”

She was only in her early 20s then.

And so it was on March 14, 1944 that she was parachuted into Yugoslavia. At the Hungarian border she was arrested by Hungarian gendarmes, “who found her British military transmitter, used to communicate with the SOE and other partisans.

Hannah was taken to a prison, stripped, tied to a chair, then whipped and clubbed for three days. She lost several teeth as a result of the beating. The guards wanted to know the code for her transmitter so they could find out who the parachutists were and trap others. Transferred to a Budapest prison, Szenes was repeatedly interrogated and cruelly tortured, but she only revealed her name and refused to provide the transmitter code.”

She was tried for treason on October 28th, 1944 and executed by firing squad on November 7th, 1944.

Three years prior, she wrote:
“To die,
so young to die.
No, no, not I,
I love the warm sunny skies,
light, song, shining eyes,
I want no war, no battle cry,
No, no, not I.”

Sources: Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary / Hannah Senesh memorial center via Israel Free Image Collection Project / Wikimedia Commons/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannah_Szenes

Joyce Bryant sings for first time on a dare

She was a teenager visiting cousins in Los Angeles. They went to a local club where an impromptu singalong began. On a dare she got up on stage to sing. Soon she was the only one singing. The club owner offered her $25 to stay on stage. She needed the money to get home so she continued to perform.

This was the beginning of what would become a legendary career for Joyce Bryant. She became a top nightclub performer, famous for her voice and for her look.

But she also used her position to fight for civil rights, becoming the first African American to perform in many places around the U.S.

Joyce tired of the nightclub scene by her late 20s and so she walked away from her lucrative career. Eventually though she came back. But this time under her own rules as a classical vocalist. And just like her previous music career, she found success.

Joyce Bryant

“Joyce Bryant sings for first time on a dare” sources: http://www.joycebryant.net/#!__intro/joyce-bryant, http://www.50shadesofblack.com/blog/meeting-legendary-joyce-bryant#.V41dRRYycpE= and “Joyce Bryant’s Best Kept Secrets”. Jet (Johnson Publishing Company) 7 (21): 59–61. March 31, 1955. ISSN 0021-5996 / Photograph of Joyce taken in 1953 – Van Vechten, Carl, photographer. Portrait of Joyce Bryant. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004662641/>.

Note: please click here to read a snapshot biography of another singer, Billie Holiday.