spaceinvaderjoe's history blog

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Month: April, 2012

Female Badasses in History: Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

Sojourner Truth was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. She also was the first escaped slave to win a court case against a white man to recover her son from him. She is best known for her “Ain’t I a woman” speech delivered in 1851 given extemporaneous to attack racial inequalities in the United States.

Sojourner Truth was born as Isabella Baumfree to a family of slaves in Esopus, New York. She was the first generation of her family born in the United States since both her parents came to the US as slaves from Ghana respectively Guinea. She was sold three times and forced to marry another slave by her fourth master. The same master had promised her freedom once the state of New York legislated abolition, a process starting in 1799 but not complete until 1827. When her master changed her mind claiming she had not done well enough to earn her freedom Truth escaped in 1826 together with her infant daughter Sophia. She escaped to the Van Wagner family who took her in for the remainder of the year so that she could be free. In 1827 New York State Emancipation Act was decreed and Truth was free. She had however learned that her previous owner had sold her five year old son illegally to a plantation owner in Alabama. With the help of the Van Wagner family she sued him and became the first African-American to win such a case. She recovered her son as well as all the illegal proceeds of his sale. The story of her son did take a very tragic end though for in later years he would become a sailor on a wailing vessel and vanish forever.

During her time at the Van Wagner’s, Truth had become a devout Christian. Her faith was her motivation to become involved in abolitionist activism. In 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and set forth to go and preach all over the US for the abolition of slavery. In 1844 she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, an organization founded by abolitionists and dedicated to abolition of slaver, women’s rights, religious tolerance and pacifism. There she even met Frederick Douglass.
The organization disbanded in 1847 but Truth kept on fighting. In 1851 she was at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akon, Ohio. There she would deliver her famous “Ain’t I a woman” speech.
In her speech she attacked gender and racial inequality with probably her most famous words:

“I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear de lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen ’em mos’ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? (…) If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full? (…)Den dat little man in back dar, he say women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wan’t a woman! Whar did your Christ come from? Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.” (Quoted from Matilda Joslyn Gage (ed.), History of Woman Suffrage, 2nd ed. Vol.1. Rochester, NY: Charles Mann, 1889.)

Her speech that was reprinted several times, especially during the civil war, mad Truth a famous speaker in abolitionist and women’s rights circles. In the subsequent years she spoke over a hundred times before different audiences.

During the Civil War Truth made it her mission to recruit African-American soldiers for the Union. She was employed by the National Freedman’s Relief Association in Washington, D.C., where she worked diligently to improve conditions for African-Americans. In October of 1864, she met President Abraham Lincoln. In 1865, while working at the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, Truth rode in the streetcars to help force their desegregation. After the war Truth started a campaign to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves but unfortunately was not successful. She dedicated the rest of her life to fight racism, racial inequality, capital punishment, and the oppression of women in the United States. She died in 1883 at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Sojourner Truth can be remembered as one of the most outstanding activists for women’s rights and racial equality of the 19th century. Not only did she overcome great adversity in her own life, she helped many people to overcome the adversity that they met and in her speeches was far ahead of her time in terms of progressive thoughts, ideas, and ideals. She truly deserves to be remembered as a hero.

Female Badasses in History: Salaria Kea (1913-1990)

Salaria Kea was the one of the few African-American women to serve with the American volunteer unit, the Abraham-Lincoln-Brigade, in the Spanish Civil War. Out of her Christian and also Communist convictions, she used her skills as a nurse to dedicate her life to social change and the improvement of the lives of the disenfranchised, poor, non-privileged, and oppressed in the United States and other countries. Despite her rather unique story and her life-long commitment and activism against racism, prejudice, and oppression, her life-story is not very well documented and her life largely forgotten outside of circles that concern themselves with the history of US-volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.

Salaria Kea was born in 1913 in Georgia. Early on in her life her father, who worked in a sanatorium was killed by a patient there and subsequently the family moved to Akron, Ohio. Kea was the only child in her family that completed high school but she still had to work besides school in a doctor’s office to support her family. She wrote that this was what prompted her to become a nurse. Nursing schools in Ohio however rejected her on basis of her race, so in 1930 Kea moved to New York to start training as a nurse at the Harlem Hospital Training School from which she graduated in 1934. After graduation she become head nurse of Sea View Hospital’s tuberculosis ward and became involved in left-wing politics culminating in her joining the Communist Party in 1935. Later on, she would omit the fact that she had joined the CP because in her life in post-WWII America this would become a factor of discrimination on top of the already existing discrimination based on her race she had to face.

Her involvements in left-wing politics lead Kea to her first activist campaign. In 1935 fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia – one of the few nations in Africa that had never been colonized – in order to re-built a fascist version of the Roman Empire. Kea was involved in aid work such as raising money and medical supplies to send to Ethiopia. She also tried to volunteer to go to Ethiopia but the Ethiopian government did not accept international volunteers at that point in time. A year later she tried to volunteer with the American Red Cross to help flood victims in the Mid-West but again was rejected on basis of her race. The same year the Spanish Civil War broke out. A fascist clique of generals staged a coup d’etat against the democratically elected left-wing government in Spain. The western powers decided on a policy of non-involvement in the conflict and Spanish Republican Forces – made up of centrist and left-wing Democrats, Socialists, Communists, and Anarchists – had to face the General Franco’s fascist forces, which were actively supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, with only marginal support by the Soviet Union. Thousands of men and women from virtually all over the world decided to volunteer to fight for the Spanish Republic with the volunteers from the US forming the Abraham-Lincoln-Brigade. Kea also decided to volunteer and in1937 sailed for Spain as the only African-American female in the medical corps of the Abraham-Lincoln Brigade.

In Spain she was assigned to a hospital in Villa Paz where she treated wounded volunteers, members of the regular army of the Spanish Republic, and civilians wounded in the fighting especially by the extensive civilian bombing campaign Spanish fascists launched with the help of Nazi Germany. Despite the horrors she saw during that time, Kea refers in her own accounts to this time as “the best of my life.” “Finally I was not seen as a Negro or as a woman but as a human being”, were her own words. She still had to battle racism from her fellow American volunteers though. Several of them refused to associate with her and she even speaks of one of the American doctors she worked with referring to her as a “Nigger wench”.
It was also there in Spain she also wrote extensively about the parallels between American racism, European anti-Semitism, and Spanish fascism, which only deepened her conviction to fight oppression everywhere. And fight oppression she did, not only by treating the wounded but also in the ranks of the fighters of the Spanish Republic. She would actively challenge any form of discrimination within the group of volunteers and never let anyone silence her.
During her time she also met her later husband, John Patrick O’Reilly, an Irishman who had come to volunteer with the British brigade in Spain. After she had recuperated from her injuries sustained in a bombing raid in Barcelona, the two married and Kea returned to the United States in 1938 where she not only lobbied and raised money for the cause of the Spanish Republic but also managed to gain an immigration certificate for her husband in 1940.
Kea served again, this time in WWII in 1944, after the US military had started accepting African-American females. After the war she and her husband moved to New York where she started working in hospitals again and stayed involved in left-wing politics, especially anti-racism campaigns. The McCarthy years were very difficult for Kea since on top of the race-based discrimination she and her husband had to face as an interracial couple, she was also discriminated against based on her political convictions. Several employers turned her down, it is suspected that the FBI had a file on her, and even threats against her life and property were issued.

In 1973 she retired and the couple moved back to Akron, Ohio. She stayed involved in campaigns against racism and oppression for the rest of her life. She also used her skills as a nurse to help by volunteering to provide medical aid for free in poor neighborhoods in New York and later on to the impoverished inhabitants of Akron.
She died after a long illness in 1990.
Salaria Kea was an outstanding woman and deserves to be remembered as such. The knowledge of her life, outstanding commitment, and passionate activism deserves to be spread and celebrated for she was a truly outstanding and amazing woman that dedicated her life to good causes and social change.

Female Badasses in History: Josephine Baker (1906-1975)

Josephine Baker’s accomplishments are almost too numerous to list them all: The American-French singer, dancer, and actress was the first African-American woman to star in a major motion picture, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become the first world-famous entertainer. She also was a member of the French resistance against the Germans and a political icon of the civil rights movement in the US, going so far that after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. his widow, Coretta Scott King (who will get her own entry) offered Josephine Baker the unofficial leadership of the movement.

Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, into a family of French, African-American, Native-American, and Jewish decent. At age 12 Baker had to drop out of school to work full-time under such ghastly conditions that she chose to rather be homeless. For three years she lived in the slums of St. Louis earning money by dancing on street corners. Apparently her talent was noticed and she joined a vaudeville troop, which ultimately brought her to New York during the height of the so-called Harlem Renaissance. In New York her career started to take off and Baker started performing on Broadway as a dancer and singer. Her dancing and singing was noticed by talent agents of the time and lead to her being invited to France to open at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1925. There she started an erotic one-woman show that soon became world-famous. She toured Western Europe with her show and was a success in every country.
Baker was the most successful American entertainer outside of the USA in the 1920s and early 30s. She took roles in European movies and also in 1934 starred in an Offenbach opera performed at the most prestigious opera house in Paris. Contemporary artists and celebrities like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, Pablo Picasso, and Christian Dior flocked around her all attesting to her beauty and talent.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939 and German forces subsequently occupied France in 1940, Josephine Baker immediately volunteered to spy and work for the French resistance. She helped the cause of the French resistance by attending parties together with high-ranking Axis officials and through subtle interrogations disguised as gossiping she learned of important details of Axis policy in France and all of Europe, which she immediately passed on to her contacts in the resistance.
She also used her status as a celebrity to get false documents for members of the resistance and Jews who needed to flee France for fear of being deported to one of the camps. She also smuggled important information and messages from France to Morocco or Spain by hiding the messages in her underwear, again relying on her celebrity status to avoid strip searches.
When she relocated definitely to Morocco in 1942 she began to entertain French colonial troops urging them to join the forces of the Free France government in London and not serving the Vichy government that was in bed with the Germans with quite a degree of success. One of the first things she did after the war in Europe ended was to visit the freshly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp where she spontaneously put on a performance for the recently liberated former inmates there much to their enjoyment according to British and American eyewitnesses.
After the war Baker became the first American woman to receive three of the highest honors of the French state, the Croix de Guerre, the Rosette de la Resistance, and being made a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur; all given to her by Charles de Gaulle personally.

In the 1950s Josephine Baker became very active in the American civil rights movement. Not only did she protest racism by adopting 12 multi-ethnic orphans as her legal children, she also forced clubs, theaters, opera houses and other cultural venues to open themselves to an integrated audience by either refusing to perform there or by simply buying the establishment and changing the audience guidelines. She also started working closely with the NAACP using her wealth and fame to bring attention and fight for their cause. This lead to her being the only official female speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. She spoke at the side of Martin Luther King Jr. wearing her Free French army uniform and her medals. Baker used this opportunity to introduce the “Negro Women for Civil Rights” and brought Rosa Parks and Daisy Bates to the stage to give brief speeches.
By 1968 Baker had become a true icon of the civil rights movement in the US and despite her still living in France at the time Coretta Scott King approached her after Martin Luther King’s assassination and offered her the unofficial leadership of the movement. After careful deliberation Josephine Baker refused, mainly because of her young children.

As for her personal life, Baker was married several times, had never any children that were not adopted due to health reasons, and according to the biography one of her sons wrote about her was bisexual, having had affairs with several women among them Frida Kahlo.
Josephine Baker died at age 68 in Paris where she was the first American woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral. She has several places in France and the US named after her and can be remembered as one of the most outstanding women of her time in show-buisness, paving the way for African-American women, an important civil-rights activist, and a fighter against racism, inequality, injustice, and the terrible German Nazi regime.

Female Badasses in History: Haika Grosman (1919-1996)

Today is Yom HaShoah, the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. It was very difficult for me to decide who to write about today since there are many, many stories of outstanding women in connection to this day; women who saved people; women who resisted; women who fell victim to the Nazi genocide. All of the should be remembered and honored today. I decided for Haika Grosman because her story is one of resistance, defiance, conviction, passion, courage, and ultimately hope. While it is important that this day is one that ultimately is not solely about hope because of the millions of men, women and children who were murdered by the Germans, Austrians and their collaborators, I believe a message of hope is needed sometimes.

Haika Grosmann was an active member of the Zionist Socialist Movement in Poland and was involved in the anti-Nazi resistance in her homeland from the first day on. She was involved in resistance activities in Poland and Lithuania. She was one of the leaders of the Jewish resistance in the city of Bialystok where she was involved in the armed uprising against the Germans who “terminated” the Ghetto. The uprising ultimately failed but Grosman survived and continued her activity in the Jewish resistance in Poland until 1945 despite the fact that she had been offered to emigrate to the British mandate Palestine numerous times. After the war she stayed in Poland helping to trace Nazi collaborators and assisting Holocaust survivors to emigrate. After her emigration to Israel in 1948 she was very active in the Kibbutzim and union movement and through her writings aimed at spreading knowledge about and preserving the memory of the Holocaust. She also was actively involved in the struggle for full civil equality for the Arab population, as well as social justice and peace.

Haika Grosman was born in 1919 in Bialystok into a wealthy Jewish family. She was one of the few members of her family as well one of the few of the sixty thousand Jewish inhabitants of Bialystok who would survive the Holocaust.
From an early age on she was involved with the Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir, a Jewish socialist youth movement, which educated its members towards a socialist ideology as well as immigration to the British mandate in Palestine. Grosman rose the ranks in the movement, eventually becoming a public representative and speaker. In 1938 she was accepted at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem thereby gaining her immigration certificate. The movement’s leadership asked her to stay though to continue her instructions on Socialism and Zionism to Jewish communities in Eastern Poland. Grosman decided to stay.

With the German invasion of Poland in 1939 Grosman together with many others fled eastward, in Grosman’s case to Vilna. Grosman had also become one of the leaders of the Ha-Shomer movement by now, well known for her leadership skills and her dedication. With the Soviet invasion of Lithuania, she and others went underground because of the uncertainty what to expect form the Soviet occupation. She continued her work in education Jewish communities and assisting with matters of emigration. She also once again turned down her chance to emigrate.

With the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the question what to do came up again. Most of Grosman’s fellow leaders of the movement decided to go east yet again but Grosman declared that she would stay. As a woman with Aryan looks she would be able to move in German occupied territory she reasoned.
In the fall of 1941 the Germans rounded up most of the Jews of Vilna and deported them 10 kilometers from the city to kill them. The few remaining Jews were forced to live in a Ghetto. Grosman who had obtained false papers lived outside the Ghetto and traveled back and fourth between Poland and Lithuania in order to inform her movement of the German atrocities. She participated in the “movement” gathering in a convent near Vilna, where the group, led by famous jewish partisan Abba Kovner, decided on armed resistance. Sent to Bialystok to organize the fighting underground, she served as a contact person between Vilna and Bialystok and other ghettos.

In Bialystok, Heika Grosman’s mission was to create a unified front between all the Jewish resistance organizations (such as the Zionists, the socialist Bund and so forth) and the Judenrat (Jewish council, the administration of the Ghetto put in place by the Germans) in order to be able to resist violently against the Germans. It was a difficult task and it was only completed in August of 943, on the eve of the German extermination of the Bialystok Ghetto. An uprising was staged with Grosman as one of the leaders but the Germans who had learned from their experience in Warsaw were quick to crush it violently. Grosman managed to survive and escaped to the “Aryan” side of town under grave danger. Under even more danger for her own life, she stayed in Bialystok and together with six other women formed her anti-fascist committee which had the purpose of marinating contact with the Soviet partisans outside of the city supplying them with information as well as helping the few remaining Jews in the city escape to safety in the woods.
With the surrender of the German troops, Grosman and her friends marched in the front line, side by side with the Soviet Brigade fighters who entered the city in August 1944. Grosman, who was awarded the highest national medal for utmost courage by the Polish government, stayed in Bialystok, but declined her friends’ repeated appeal to officially join the communist leadership. At the same time, she integrated into the new regime, and served in the security forces tracing Nazi collaborators. At this time, the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945, the remaining leadership of the Halutz movements were looking for a way to reach the survivors of the camps and the refugees who had returned from central USSR. The members of Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir in Poland located Grosman and, in an emotion laden meeting, told each other about the hardships and horrors of their personal experiences. Informing her superiors in the security forces that she was joining her Jewish Zionist comrades, Grosman reached the joint commune in Warsaw in April 1945. Until her immigration to Israel in May 1948, she operated mainly in the political field, serving as head of the youth department in the Central Jewish Committee formed by the Polish authorities. As an acknowledged hero of war, she established political connections which helped her to organize institutions for the absorption of refugee children.

Arriving in Israel in 1948, Grosman fought in the war of independence and afterwards became very active in the Kibutzim and union movement as well as in socialist politics. She also wrote her autobiography about her time in the resistance and the loss of her relatives. Until the end of her life in 1996 Grosman never tired of promoting the memory of the Holocaust and the commemoration of its victims. Due to her socialist politics, she was also involved in campaigns for social justice and civil liberties for the Arab population. Highly honored by the Polish as well as the Israeli government, Heika Grosman stands out for her brave resistance conducted under life threatening conditions, her convictions, her tireless effort to save people and fight the Germans and their campaign of extermination.

Female Badasses in History: Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000)

Hedy Lamarr is probably best know for being a world-famous movie actress of Hollywood’s “Golden Age” with starring roles in movies like “Comrade X” with Spencer Tracy and Cecille B. DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah”. But Lamarr made an even greater contribution than her art when she and composer George Antheil invented an early technique for spread spectrum communication and frequency hopping – both techniques essential for wireless communication. Modern day cell phones and WLAN would not be possible without Lamarr’s and Antheiler’s invention.

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1913 in Vienna to a family of the Austro-Hungarian Jewish bourgeoisie. She soon fond her way into acting and as a young teenager worked with max Reinhardt – one of the most famous German actors and acting coaches at the time – in Berlin and started reprising roles in major German movie productions of the 1920s.

Lamarr became world-renown for the first time because of a scandal: In a 1933 Czech film entitled “Ecstasy” she was the star of only the second nude scene in European commercial feature film. In a sequence of scenes lasting ten minutes the movie going audience of Europe saw Lamarr bathing naked in spring and then walking around the woods. The scandal didn’t end there. Also in the film is a close-up shot of Lamarr’s face while she is having an orgasm (rumored to be real which she later objected to in her auto-biography).

The same year Lamarr at age 19 married Friedrich Mandel, an Austrian arms manufacturer and prominent fascist. Mandel was extremely controlling and abusive. He prevented her from pursuing her acting career and even locked her up in his mansion. He also took her to business meetings with his partners where she got interested in military technology. In 1937 after four years of marriage to Mandel, Hedy disguised herself as one of her maids and fled Mandel and his abuse to Paris where she immediately obtained a divorce.

From Paris she went to London where she met Louis B. Meyer of MGM fame. Meyer was very impressed by Lamarr and hired her on the spot. Also he insisted that she change her name for marketing reasons and because of her personal story with Mandel. She chose Lamarr in reference to silent film actress Barbara La Marr who had did in 1926.

Lamarr moved to Hollywood and started a successful movie career in the 1940s, staring alongside Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, John Garfield, and even as comedic support for Bob Hope.

In Hollywood Lamarr lived next door to avant garde composer George Antheil, also a German immigrant and famous for his experiments with automated musical instruments. Lamarr, who had always been mathematically talented and was since her marriage to Mandel interested in military technology, had the idea to use Antheil’s technique for automated pianos as the basis for a secret communications system. In 1941 they built a device out of a piano roll that was able to hop between 88 different frequencies. According to the patent they handed in, it was indented to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for the enemy to detect or jam. They even presented the idea to the US Navy but officials rejected the idea. It was not put into military use until the Cuba blockade in 1962 after the patent had already expired. It was only form the 60s on that military and civil developers recognized how useful the idea was and started adopting it. Today Antheil’s and Lamarr’s technique is the basis for Bluetooth, WLAN, Wi-Fi networks, and cell phones.

Lamarr who very well recognized the use of the technique wanted to join the National Inventors Council, where inventors banded together to develop for the US military in the Second World War, but the president of the council rejected her  – one would suspect because she was a woman – and told her she should rather use her celebrity status to sell war bonds.

In the early 1950s Lamarr’s movie career was fainting and she began living in seclusion for basically the rest of her life. She appeared again in the tabloids for a shoplifting incident in 1965 but was largely forgotten in the 1970s. She died in Florida in the year 2000. Her children followed her testamentary wish and took her ashes back to Austria to spread them in the Wiener Wald, an area of woods surrounding the city of Vienna.

It was only after her death that her contribution to science and modern technology was recognized. In 2003 Boeing has ads featuring Lamarr without any reference to her movie career. In 2008 Elyse Singer wrote an off-broadway play about her. In 2004 a documentary entitled “Calling Hedy Lamarr” was made that detailed the story of her’s and Antheil’s contributions. Today not only is a srtee in Vienna named after her but the International Inventor’s Day is celebrated on her birthday, November 9. Lamarr contributed to the world not only through her art but what she and Antheil invented shaped our everyday life today in a very profound way because no matter what you think about it cell phones and Wi-Fi have become a most integral part of society and life.

Female Badasses in History: Grace Hopper (1906-1992)

 

Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was a United States Navy officer and pioneer of the computer. Her work helped make computers what they are today because her work was crucial in developing the first non-machine dependent programming language and the first compiler, i.e. a device transforms source code into another computer language such as binary. Also, she is credited with coining the term de-bugging.

Born Grace Brewster Murray in New York in 1906, Grace is said to always have been a very curious child for example dismantling an alarm clock to see how it works. She earned her undergrad degree in mathematics at Vassar College in 1928 and went on to earn her Master’s degree and her PhD in mathematics at Yale where she graduated in 1934 with her dissertation »New Types of Irreducibility Criteria«.

In 1943 Grace Hopper left her position as an associate professor at Vassar College to join the »Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service« (WAVES), a Naval Reserve organization that allowed women to serve in the US Navy. Because of her mathematics degree Grace was soon assigned to work with the Navy’s early computers, at that time huge machines designed mainly to decipher code. Her talent in this matter was so apparent that after the war ended and her service was up, she was practically begged to continue to work for the Navy. Grace liked the idea because it gave her the opportunity to work with what was at the time cutting-edge science and so she signed on as a Navy research fellow in Harvard in 1949.

In her position as a Navy research fellow Grace Hopper started working as a Navy technical consultant for the company that developed the UNIVAC I, the first commercial computer developed in the United States. This is where she invented and developed the first ever compiler. In 1953 she completed the first operational compiler. Compilers transform source code into another computer language, which is the basis for all executable programs – basically all software. In an interview with the Yale University paper in 1987 she said: “Nobody believed that, I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic.”
She quickly rose in the ranks and became company’s first director of automatic programming, a position in which she worked on developing some of the world’s first compiler based computer languages.

She also rose in the ranks of the Navy: After her work as a consultant was finished she served as the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy’s Office of Information Systems Planning from 1967 to 1977 and was promoted to the rank of captain in 1973. During this time period she strongly advocated writing programming languages in a way closely related to English and to replace central computers that filled whole rooms with networks of small distributed – one could almost say personalized – computers.

Initially set to retire in 1966 she was brought back by the Navy for an assignment of indefinite time. In 1983 the importance of work was demonstrated by a Presidential appointment to the rank of Rear Admiral. She completely retired in 1986 as the oldest active commissioned officer in the history of the Navy at age 79. She spent the rest of her life acting as a good-will ambassador for the Digital Equipment Corporation lecturing about her work and early computers. She died in 1992 at age 85.

Today Grace Hopper can be remembered as one of the most important computer pioneers. Her work really is part of the basis for all computer software we use today. Today a Navy destroyed is named after her to commemorate and honor her memory and accomplishments.

Female Badasses in History: Flora Sanders (1876–1955)

Flora Sanders stands out in military history. She was the only British woman to officially enlist in World War I and the first woman in history who became a commissioned officer in the Serbian army.

Flora Sanders was born in 1876 in Nehter Poppleton in the UK as the daughter of an Irish family. In her youth she enjoyed riding and shooting a lot. On one occasion it is said that she claimed, she would have liked to be born a boy. She also was one of the first women in the area who learned to drive. In her twenties she bought a French racecar, taught herself how to drive and raced around Yorkshire in it.

When World War I broke out in 1914, she was one of the first women to volunteer to become a nurse in the British army. She was rejected due to her lack of qualification but Sanders didn’t give up and joined the Red Cross. She and other Red Cross volunteers set out for Serbia in 1914, which at the time was under military assault by German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops and suffered heavy military and civilian casualties.

Sanders worked with a Serbian army regiment under heavy assault. Her assignment was to run around the battlefield under heavy fire and collect wounded soldiers she had to drag back to safety. When the unit had to retreat to Albania because of the heavy attacks, Sanders was separated. After a two-day trek through the mountains, she found another Serbian army unit and decided to join them in combat. Flora Sanders became the only British woman to enlist in an army in World War I. Because of her apparent skill, she quickly rose through the ranks and in 1916 was awarded the rank of Corporal. The same year, she participated in a Serbian Army attack on Monastir where she was wounded by a grenade while engaging an Austro-Hungarian soldier in hand-to-hand combat. She was brought to a military hospital in Greece, was awarded the rank of Sergeant Major and was awarded the Order of the Karađorđe’s Star, the highest military honor the Serbian Army has to offer.

Unable to continue to fight, Sanders wrote an autobiography in order to make people worldwide support the fight of Serbia against the tri-partie powers. She remained in the Serbian Army until 1922 when she was honorably discharged.

In 1927 she married a former White-Army-General who had fought in the Russian civil war and lived in Belgrad with him. When Nazi-Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, Sanders and her husband were both interned in the Gestapo prison in Belgrad. Her husband didn’t survive captivity. After World War II Sanders returned to England where she spent the remaining years of her life delivering lectures about her time in the military. She died in 1955 in Suffolk.

Flora Sanders stands out because she defied military and social convention. Due to her alleged saying she’d rather be a boy, it has been speculated that she might have been one of the first known trans-gender people to fight in a war. That question aside though, Flora Sanders certainly proves to be an example of somebody who didn’t back down when faced with the obstacle of social and military norms.

One thing Dan Brown got right, or: The Church was and is an institution run by men for men

I recently saw »The Da Vinci Code« for the first time (I know I am late to this). Besides the fact that I never thought to hear the sentence »I need to get to a library – fast!« uttered in a movie with a tone of urgency normally reserved for an action movie a la Mission Impossible, I found it to be a historical mess. Conspiracy theories mixed with half-truths and incredibly stupid characters (»Da Vinci painted a woman in his Last Supper! Yes, I see it too and because Da Vinci painted it, it must be historical truth!«) might make for an entertaining story but are dangerous when people start believing it. Several people have already disproven Brown’s claim that »all of the organizations and rituals described in this book are historical fact« but one aspect Brown used, I find especially interesting because it is really based in historical truth and it goes to show how history can be written. This aspect is Biblical apocrypha and the Gospel of Mary in particular.

The question of the existence of the historical person Jesus (there are no contemporary sources for his historical existence, the first independent Roman source dates 40 years after his supposed death) aside, the gospels presents us with a picture of him and his male followers being responsible for spreading the word of God during his life time and after his death. One would assume that with all the historical problems the Bible in general has (Jewish court against Jesus on a high holiday and at night? Somebody didn’t know his Judaism very well) this is basically the story everybody can agree on: One man, his twelve male followers and the only women in the story his virgin-mother and Mary-Magdalene, the prostitute that kind of just hung around.
However, even for this there are sources that prove this wrong: In 1896 a German scholar unearthed a 5th century papyrus codex, which contained the so-called Gospel of Mary. Most biblical scholars agree that this particular book was written by the historical Mary-Magdalene (again, given that what the bible presents us is at least half-historically accurate) and it presents a very different version of Jesus and his followers. From what can be gathered from this book, Mary-Magdalene was one of the apostles and even outranked Peter in the hierarchy of who gets told about the teachings of Jesus first. This version is – in slight variations – backed up by several other gospels that two farmers found buried in the sands of Egypt in 1945 (the so-called Nag Hammadi library).
All of these texts were not included in the canonical version of the New Testament that was put together in the 3rd and 4th century AD. Was it because Jesus and Mary-Magdalene were married and had a child as Dan Brown claims? Most likely not. Was it because Christian officials at the time wanted the fact that in the earliest of Christianity women were to the most part equal to men (at least in terms of preaching and spreading the word) suppressed? That paired with the fact that some of the content of these gospels is gnostic, is a historically more likely explanation.

My intention with this post was not to bash Christianity or Christians. I just wanted to point out that in my opinion it is important to question the dogma of the church as well as to not take everything in the bible as literal because there is a lot of stuff left out and how can you take something literal if it is not complete or is contradictory in its content? I think it is important to recognize that many a content of what today is considered the right Christian way comes rather from 2000 years of official and not accurate history and therefore rather than oppose gay marriage, women in church hierarchy or abortion, Christians should focus on the positive aspects of their belief such as helping the poor or fighting for the underdogs in society.

»Weltanschauung« and the Holocaust

So, I haven’t produced content for this blog in quite a while. This was mainly due to the fact that I had to write an important paper about the »Weltanschauung« of Nazi perpetrators and how this mix of ideological-inspired views pertaining to an imaginary »Jewish question« and its supposed solution was conveyed to men joining the SS and participating in the Einsatzgruppen-murders in the Soviet Union.

To give a short summary:
»Weltanschauung« is more than a general world view or an ideology an individual embraces. »Weltanschauung« is all the views of an individual concerning the world and the place of men in the world. For the men (and in this case it was only men) who planed and participated directly in the Holocaust by shooting approx. 900.000 (which is the conservative estimate. The highest estimate is about 1,35 Million) Jews in the Soviet Union a specific »Weltanschauung« was a very important factor.

The vast majority of the men of the so-called Reich Security Main Office (Reichsicherheitshauptamt, RSHA – the institution which was most directly involved in the Holocaust for their bureaucrats planned deportation, organized persecution, were often in important positions in occupied countries, and lead the Einsatzgruppen – the Nazi death squads – in the Soviet Union and Poland) were born between 1900 and 1910 and had studied in the Weimar Republic. Several revered authors postulate that because they experienced World War I not on the battlefield but at home, they started to embrace the glorified ideal of the soldier fighting in a necessarily cold-hearted manner that never allowed compromise and demanded to put the ideal before the individual.
This ideal mixed with the anti-Semitic ideology they picked up during their time at university – universities in the Weimar Republic were a hot-bed for the extreme right wing »völkische« movement – is what made them believe in a »Jewish-question«, basically a scenario in which Jews just by their mere existence threatened the racial purity of the German people and without the racial purity the German people would go under in the eternal struggle of the »Völker«. At the same time, the ideals of non-compromise, cold-heartedness, and putting the idea before the individual lead to what they saw as a solution to this imaginary problem: A policy that aimed at social totality, e.g. excluding Jews from society, forcing them to emigrate and in the end, extermination.

This »Weltanschauung« was a major factor for the radicalization of the regime and also offered these men a psychological frame of reference in which they could kill Jews but still see themselves as moral human beings for in their perception they were only doing what was necessary for the sake of the German people and history.
Analyzing the ideological education for their subordinated in the SS can show that they recognized how important such a frame of reference was. The orders of what should be taught and how it should be taught were to emphasize the historical necessity of their actions. Also, one aim of their ideological training was to create camaraderie among the men carrying out the killings since it was the camaraderie among these men that created a social dynamic where basically peer-pressure lead to participation in the killing actions despite the fact that everybody had been given the choice not to participate. This kind of camaraderie – in the sense of an elite community carrying out this highly important task – was also a central idea in the »Weltanschauung« of the highly ideological men in the SS, also inspired by their student time in small »völkische Bünde« and shows the importance of closely examining these connections when we as historians try to approach a sense of understanding (not in the sense of excusing but rather being able to comprehend their actions from the historical context) with the perpetrators of the Holocaust.