In 1924, Nellie Tayloe Ross was the First Lady of Wyoming. Then her husband passed away from appendicitis. As a result, Wyoming held a special election to elect a new governor. Nellie was nominated by the Democratic party to run for his seat.
Nellie wasn’t sure if she should run. There was good reason for her not to run. She was distraught from his passing. She needed to focus on financial stability for her family. And Wyoming was a Republican state.
But she wanted the role. She felt that she could do a great job. So she ran, and though she didn’t campaign, she won.
On January 5, 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first female governor in America.
It was 1848 when Susie King Taylor was born a slave on a plantation in Liberty County, Georgia.
There she was raised by her grandmother, who wanted to make sure Susie would grow up educated. She sent Susie to a school that was run by a friend, a free woman. Everyday at 9am, Susie and her brother would go the half a mile, their books wrapped in paper to prevent the police or white persons from seeing them. That’s how she learned to read and write.
Susie was barely in her early teens when her family fled to St. Simons Island in Georgia, a Union controlled area. With her inquisitive eyes and kind demeanor and her education, she impressed the army officers. They asked that she become a teacher for children, and even some adults. “I would gladly do so, if I could have some books,” she replied. And so she became the first black teacher of freed black students to work in a freely operating freedmen’s school in Georgia.
Not long after, Susie married, and joined her husband and his regiment as they traveled. She became their teacher, teaching the illiterate men to read and write. It was also during this time that she became a nurse to the men, thus making her the first black army nurse in the Civil War.
He was a college football player at USC. But then he got hurt bodysurfing. No longer able to play football, he lost his scholarship. And so without funds to pay for school, he dropped out and became a prop boy on films.
As his career in film grew, a screen name was chosen to replace his birth name of Marion Mitchell Morrison. He wasn’t even part of the conversation. Marion Mitchell Morrison just became John Wayne. And John Wayne became one of the most famous actors in the U.S.
Henry Ossian Flipper was born a slave in Thomasville, Georgia in 1856. Just over twenty years later, he would become the first African American to graduate from West Point.
His path of education to West Point began in a wood shop of a slave. Henry was eight then. His schooling continued at Missionary Schools and then at Atlanta University. However, his dream was to attend West Point.
No African American had ever graduated from West Point. This didn’t deter Henry. He wrote a state Congressman at the time, James C. Freeman, asking to be appointed to West Point. After the two exchanged letters, the Congressman appointed Henry.
Henry joined four other African Americans at West Point. He became the first of the group to graduate. Then he became the first African American to command regular troops in the U.S. Army.
This photo is of Cadet Henry O. Flipper, Class of 1877.
The U.S. didn’t have enough male pilots for WWII, so the Women Airforce Service Pilots was created.
The pilots though who joined were not officially considered part of the military. Rather, they were considered civilians and received no military benefits.
One of those invited to join this program was Chinese American Hazel Lee. Hazel, who was born in Portland, had spent much of the 1930’s flying as a pilot in China. When she was contacted to join the program, she eagerly accepted.
Of the 38 female pilots to pass away during WWII, Lee was the last one.
She was a spy for the British in France, where she was the only wireless operator on staff. All the others had been captured. The life expectancy of one in this role was 6 weeks. But still she stayed.
She felt a strong duty to help. As in her words, “I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians.”
After 5 months though, she too was captured. In captivity she told her captors lies. Then she escaped. But then she was betrayed and captured once more.
She was brought to Dachau. Where for a day she was beaten. Still she didn’t tell the Nazi’s anything. The German firing squad raised their weapons. And she still didn’t tell them anything.
She was in her late teens at the time, 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. It was only a matter of time before she was the only one singing. The club owner offered her $25 to stay on stage and sing. 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, where in a number of places she became the first African American to perform.
In the 1950’s, she got tired of the nightclub scene and while only 28 years old, 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.
This is Ida Saxton McKinley, wife of President McKinley. After her children and mother passed away, Ida began to suffer from epilepsy. She would have seizures in public, once even at her husband’s inaugural ball as Governor of Ohio.
But her husband was deeply devoted and loving to his wife. He changed traditions so that he could better care for his wife. One for example was making sure that she would sit with him during State dinners as opposed to them sitting on opposite ends of the table. This way, if she’d suffer a seizure, he would patiently cover her face with a napkin or handkerchief until the seizure passed.
As one man noted, “President McKinley has made it pretty hard for the rest of us husbands here in Washington.”
His opulence of good humor seems lost behind a depressed look of greying disheveled hair, and sunken eyes, and caved in cheeks. There is a weight of burden stamped into the wrinkles of his face – maybe from the political battles over slavery that have already begun for the national election, or maybe because he can foretell the coming Civil War.
And yet he also sits defiant, upright and confident, his arms crossed, his smirk assertive. All the demeanor of a man who has a genuine belief in what he stands for to be right and good for the people.
As a writer of the day said, Lincoln “should lead the hosts of freedom in this ‘irrepressible conflict,’ as he is in himself the embodiment and exponent of our free institutions.”
This photo is of Abraham Lincoln during his run for U.S. president in 1860.