“Stop crying. I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.”
These were the words of Rick Rescorla to his wife, spoken over phone on 9/11/2001.
Rick, a former British army paratrooper and U.S. Vietnam War veteran, was director of security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. After the North Tower was hit, he ignored the warning for people in the South Tower to stay at their desks. Instead, he took a bullhorn and ran up and down the more than twenty floors of company office space directing employees out of the building, singing songs, just as he did with his men in Vietnam, to keep everyone calm.
Once most of Morgan Stanley’s employees were evacuated, one of his colleagues told Rick to evacuate as well. “As soon as I make sure everyone else is out,” Rick responded.
Rick went back into the building, but he never made it out. He was last seen on the 10th floor, heading upward, shortly before the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 A.M.
It was 1872 when Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for President in the U.S. She didn’t win, but her running was a step in the right direction for gender equality.
But for Victoria, her run for President was on the heels of a number of other important milestones. In 1870, she and her sister became the first female stockbrokers in the U.S. and soon after, opened a brokerage firm on Wall Street. After her success on Wall Street, Victoria became a newspaper editor. A role in which she challenged many conventional norms of the day.
Helen Taussig wanted to be a doctor. So after graduating from UC Berkeley in 1921, she tried to enroll in medical school.
Most universities at the time wouldn’t accept a woman. Johns Hopkins did. She was admitted and in 1927 she became a doctor there.
Helen became a pioneer in her field, conducting extensive research in multiple areas, but becoming well known in her work with Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas to develop a treatment for “blue baby syndrome.”
Later in her career, Helen became deaf. But again she found a way. “She learned to use lip-reading techniques and hearing aids to speak with her patients, and her fingers rather than a stethoscope to feel the rhythm of their heartbeats and to lip read.”
Helen went on to earn more than 20 honorary degrees and many awards and continued to conduct research even after retiring from the university.
“The air is the only place free from prejudices. I knew we had no aviators, neither men nor women, and I knew the Race needed to be represented along this most important line, so I thought it my duty to risk my life to learn aviation.”
Bessie Coleman was born into poverty in Atlanta, Texas in 1892 to a Black mother and a Black and Native American father. At the age of six she began her studies in a segregated, one-room school, a four mile walk from her home. She studied at this school for eight years, thriving as a math student and developing a love for reading.
When she was nine, her father left the family. And while Bessie continued her studies, she had to pick cotton and wash clothes to help earn money for the now fatherless family.
Throughout her teen years, Bessie was able to save a little money and at eighteen she began college. Her funds however were only good for one term, so she dropped out. But it was here in college that she learned about flying. She read tales of the Wright Brothers and of Harriet Quimby, the first American female pilot.
At twenty three Bessie found herself living in Chicago working as a manicurist and thinking of what to do next. Hearing stories of the war and European female pilots from her brother who had just returned from World War I, Bessie decided to become an aviator. She took on a second job to earn money to enter flight school, but soon discovered that flight schools in the United States only admitted white men.
With help and encouragement from a prominent African American businessman, Bessie learned French and enrolled in a French flight school, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. In 1921, Bessie became the first person of African American and Native American descent to earn an international pilot’s license.
Bessie returned to Chicago, but no one would hire a Black woman pilot. So Bessie once again went to Europe to learn to become a stunt pilot and parachutist.
Bessie had a successful, four year career as a barnstormer, or exhibition pilot, becoming known to her fans as “Queen Bess” or “Brave Bessie”. She performed aerial stunts such as figure eights, loops, barrel rolls and daredevil dives until a mechanical failure in her airplane caused her untimely death at the age of 34. Bessie’s ultimate plan was to start an aviation school to train Black pilots.
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Katherine Stinson wanted to be a piano player. So to make money for lessons, she earned a pilot’s certificate, which she was going to use to teach others to fly. But she fell in love with flying and decided to become an aviator instead.
This was 1912, when Katherine was 21 years old. She spent the next six years teaching others to fly, performing flying feats, setting distance records for non-stop flights in the U.S. and Canada, and she become the first female Air Mail pilot in the U.S.
“I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so will we die, together.”
Isidor Straus was co-owner of Macy’s Department Store. Ida Straus was a homemaker and his wife. Married for more than forty years, they were known for their shared love, almost always together and writing daily to each other when apart.
On April 14th, 1912, they were passengers on the Titanic. As the ship began to sink, Ida alone was offered a seat in a lifeboat. She refused. “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go,” Ida said to her husband.
The two were then offered a seat together in another lifeboat. But with many women and children still on the Titanic, Isidor refused to take the seat. Once again, his wife refused a seat as well.
Passengers remarked that what they saw was a “most remarkable exhibition of love and devotion.”
The couple was last seen sitting side by side on Titanic’s Boat Deck.
Note: This story was updated on February 14th, 2021.
Sources: Photograph taken circa 1910, Straus Historical Society / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isidor_Straus / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_Straus
“Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
Inez Milholland was the kind of person who people said “could not be happy while others suffered.” She wanted to defend those who faced oppression.
So she became a lawyer. And worked tirelessly for equality, particularly for women’s rights.
“Only the hopes of women have we; and our own spirit and a mighty principle. Women of these states, unite. We have only our chains to lose, and a whole nation to gain.”
In 1916, while suffering from poor health she went on tour to speak about rights for women. And it was on this tour that in the middle of a speech she collapsed. She died soon after at just 30 years old.