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Women in Innovation: The Labor Day Triumph of Diana Nyad

September 7, 2013

Taking Inspiration From Those Who Already Made It Happen

The amazing achievement of Diana Nyad this week is a great reminder during our Labor Day holiday last week that inspiration comes from many places. Completing the 110 mile swim (110 miles!?!) on her fifth and final try, she is both an inspiration and model for persistence for men and women alike (see the full story of her finish here).

It's not hard though to find other examples of historical women who've inspired. For women striving to innovate today, or just trying to shed more light on their innovations, it might be reassuring to think that there is almsot nothing that someone hasn't already done before! The key may be to focus on not if you CAN do something extraordinary (there is that capability in almost anyone), but if you are willing to innovate on HOW you achieve it.

I had been saving an old e-mail full of fascinating historical pictures that had landed in my Inbox, and within the full set there was a hidden story being told of women who have already proved over the years that they are capable of any challenge...and when they faced roadblocks they innovated their way to a solution that let them fulfill their ambition.

As a historian by training, I've added a few additional links and information to some of the photos for a more in-depth look at these amazing people and to satisfy my own curiousity about their histories - enjoy!

 Women in Innovation - Helen Keller

Helen Keller Meeting Charlie Chaplin - in addition to being a prolific author and her well-known childhood education experience, Helen was also involved in the founding of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 and in addition to Charlie Chaplin, also counted Alexander Graham Bell and Mark Twain as personal friends. (See more)

 Women in Innovation - Annie Oakley

Phoebe Moses (aka: Annie Oakley). Famed for her marksmanship by 12 years old, she once shot the ashes off of Kaiser Wihelm II's cigarette at his invitation. Once WWI broke out she sent him a second letter asking for a chance at another shot - he never responded. Perhaps the first proponent of putting women in military combat roles, she  offered President William McKinley a "company of 50 lady sharpshooters who would provide their own arms and ammo should the US go to war with Spain". (More Here)

 Women in Innovation - Lucille Ball

Very Young Lucy Lucille Ball around 1930 - in addition to being a model, an actress and perhaps most importantly - someone who can make us laugh - Lucille was also the first woman to run a major television studio as early as 1962. She was unique in her day also for having her first child at the age of 40. (More Here).

Also see the best example of her extraordinary commitment to making us laugh here.

 Women in Innovation - Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson, English aviator 1903-1941 One of the first women to gain a pilot's licence, Johnson won fame when she flew solo from Britain to Australia in 1930. Her dangerous flight took 17 days. Later she flew solo to India and Japan and became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic East to West, she volunteered to fly for The Women's Auxiialry Air Force in WW II, but her plane was shot down over the River Thames and she was killed. (More Here)

 Women in Innovation - Jessie Tarbox

Female photojournalist Jessie Tarbox on the street with her camera, 1900s. Jessie is considered to be the first woman staff photographer on a US newspaper in 1902. She taught her husband how to develop negatives and print images and then hired him as her assistant. (More Here)

 Women in Innovation - Maud Allen

The extraordinary life of Maud Allen: A Canadian-born German-trained pianist-turned actor, dancer and choreographer. She was famous around the world for performances pushing the boundaries of expression in her dance, and designed and created her own costumes - perhaps the first "Lady Gaga"? She was sued in the UK for being too lewd, outed as a lesbian, and fled London after being branded a German spy who was sleeping with the prime minister's wife. (More Here)Women in Innovation - Caroline Otero

Caroline Otero, courtesan, the most sought after woman in all of Europe. Despite growing up impoverished, raped and sterile at the age of ten and left home at the age of 14, she accumulated a fortune exceeding $25MM in her lifetime. She associated herself with the likes of Prince Albert I of Monaco, King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, Kings of Serbia, and Kings of Spain as well as Russian Grand Dukes Peter and Nicholas, the Duke of Westminster and writer Gabriele D’Annunzio. She may have been the first film star, after being filmed in Russia by a French director in 1898. (More Here)

 Women in Innovation - Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart - a personal hero of mine - is perhaps most well-known for the circumstances of her death, but had a life from early childhood that merits more attention than it gets. During her troubled childhood, she aspired to a future career and kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management and mechanical engineering. After her trans-Atlantic flight brought her fame, she was active in promoting commercial air travel, had her own signature lines of women's clothing, luggage and more and was an associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine - all of which she saw as a means for her to finance more flying! (More Here)

And we might be finally solving the mystery of her disappearance (see latest info here) the search that has gone on for over 20 years is a testament to the way she inspired others.

 Women in Innovation - Mae Questel

Do you know what Mel Blanc, the owner of the voices of Bugs Bunny and his co-stars in Looney Toons looked like? Consider Mae Questel (seen here ca. 1930’s), another voice artist whose face you won't recognize. She was the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, Minnie Mouse, Felix the Cat (for three shorts by the Van Beuren Studios), Little Lulu, Little Audrey and Casper, the Friendly Ghost. Starting as a vaudeville impressionist, she actually did appear in person on TV and in movies in minor roles, but will always be known for the diversity and personality of her voice characters (More Here)

 Women in Innovation - Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur (née Bernice Frankel) (1922-2009) SSgt. USMC 1943-45 WW II. Enlisted and assigned as typist at Marine HQ in Wash DC, then air stations in VA and NC. Best remembered for her title role in the TV series “Maude” and as Dorothy in "Golden Girls". As "Maude", she was ground-breaking in the topics that were covered, perhaps only as a sitcom could cover them. In addition to being the first on-screen TV character to endure menopause, in 1972 a two-part episode involved her terminating a late-life pregnancy, aired just two months before Roe vs. Wade and proving controversial enough to not be broadcast by affiliates where abortion was not legal. (More Here)

Women in Innovation - Women's Baseball

All-American Girls Baseball, 1940s - Immortalized by the film A League of Their Own, women's baseball took off during WW II as stadium owners looked for ways to fill empty fields given the lack of men to create teams in smaller cities. Founded by the owner of the Wrigley gum empire, women earned from $45-85 per week in the early years and eventually up to $125 per week in the 1950's. (More Here)

 Women in Innovation - Sacajawea

Sacajawea. Stolen, held captive, sold, eventually reunited the Shoshone Indians. She was an interpreter and guide for Lewis and Clark in 1805-1806 with her husband Toussaint Charbonneau. She navigated carrying her son, Jean Baptiste, on her back. She traveled thousands of miles from the Dakotas the Pacific Ocean. The explorers, said she was cheerful, never complained, and proved to be invaluable. She served as an advisor, caretaker, and is legendary for her perseverance and resourcefulness. The National American Woman Suffrage Association of the early twentieth century adopted her as a symbol of women's worth and independence. (More Here) (NOTE: There is no known photo of the real Sacajawea who died in 1812, well before she could have been photographed.)


 Women in Innovation - Geraldine Doyle - Rosie Riveter

Geraldine Doyle, who was the inspiration behind the famous Rosie the Riveter poster. Inspiring millions of people worldwide for years, she herself was not aware she was the inspiration for the poster until as late as 1984. Having worked in the factory for only a short time, she gave up the job out of fear of injuring her hand - because she was a cello player. As the poster was originally created for an in-house communications piece for Westinghouse, it did not get its iconic status until it became more widely known in public in the 1980's. (More Here)

Women in Innovation - Soviet Nightwitches

Finally, another war story,this one of the "Night Witches" - Female Russian bombers who fought the Germans during WW2. To stop Germans from hearing them & starting up the anti aircraft guns, they’d climb to a certain height, coast down to German positions, drop their bombs, restart their engines in midair & get out quickly. As the planes made no sounds except for the wind, the German soldiers likened it to the sounf of a broom and gave them their nickname. 30 of them died in combat, and every surviving pilot flew over 1,000 missions during the war. (More Here)

The recent passing of Nadia Popova, one of the last remaining Nachthexen, offers an chance to learn more about one of these amazing women pilots: Nadia Popova Obituary

For more stories about historical women in innovation, see our series from 2012 on "Women in Innovation": http://www.fennec.co/blog/bid/174882/Untold-Stories-of-History-s-Hidden-Women-Innovators-1-of-4