Coretta Scott King: Unshakeable Faith

By Kingkongphoto & from Laurel Maryland, USA – Coretta Scott King © copyright 2010, CC BY-SA 2.0, Public Domain.

Like the Robesons, the Kings had a marriage based on love—for each other and for racial equality. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Coretta gained recognition in her own right as a pillar of the civil rights movement. A talented musician, Coretta was born in Alabama in 1927 and was educated at Antioch, where she got a degree in music and elementary education and was exposed to whites in a very different environment than the South, learning a great deal about techniques to foster interracial communication. In 1953, she married Martin Luther King, Jr. while they were both college students, and they pursued a life together, her music—she got a higher degree at the New England Conservatory of Music—and his theological degree. From a long line of ministers, Martin felt a call to become a pastor, a decision that found the young couple moving to Montgomery, Alabama, after their education. They had their first of four children in their first year at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and became deeply involved in the actions of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the bus boycott after Rosa Parks’ historic bus ride. As the footage shows, Coretta was right beside Martin at every protest, fighting for the rights of all African Americans. She also participated in fundraising for the movement by giving more than thirty concerts in Europe and the United States to raise money for Martin’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The Kings traveled extensively in their work—to Ghana, to India, to Nigeria, and in 1964, to Norway to receive Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize. Four years later, the world watched in horror as Martin was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee, during a garbage workers strike. Coretta didn’t shrink from the work at hand and led a protest in Memphis four days later with her children at her side. Her quiet dignity captured the nation; that year she was voted Woman of the Year and Most Admired Woman by college students.

From that fateful day, Coretta stepped forward and took up the mantle of leadership in the civil rights movement, which she shared with the young Jesse Jackson. Coretta amazed everyone with her stamina and heart as she made speech after speech and led march after march. She has received innumerable awards for her tireless efforts in her lifetime. She founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Change and has also led the attention of the nation into new directions, organizing antiwar protests, antinuclear and anti-apartheid lobbies, and employment for African Americans. More than 100 colleges have given her honorary doctorates. Coretta Scott King has never hesitated to give herself to the struggle for freedom and justice, viewing it as both “a privilege” and “a blessing.”

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Christine Darden: When You Hear a Sonic Boom, Think of Her

By NASA –, Public Domain.

Racial and gender discrimination in hiring practices at NASA hadn’t improved much by the time Christine Darden applied for a position in the late 1960s. Darden, despite her master’s degree in applied mathematics, which qualified her for a position as an engineer, was instead assigned to the segregated female “human computer” pool, the same as numbers of other black female scientists. She approached her supervisor, asking why men with the same education as she had wider opportunities, and gained a transfer to an engineering job in 1973, becoming one of a tiny number of female aerospace engineers at NASA Langley. In this role, she worked on the science of sonic boom minimization, writing computer test programs as well as more than 50 research articles in the field of high lift wing design. In 1983, Darden earned a doctorate, and by 1989 she was appointed to the first of a number of management and leadership roles at NASA, including that of technical leader of the Sonic Boom Team within the High Speed Research Program, as well as director of the Program Management Office of the Aerospace Performing Center in 1999. She worked at NASA until retirement in 2007.

“I was able to stand on the shoulders of those women who came before me, and women who came after me were able to stand on mine.”
— Christine Darden

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


By Chris Collins / Margaret Thatcher Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Margaret Thatcher may have drawn fire from critics for her staunch conservativism, but she has the respect of the world for her no-nonsense strength and for her rise from greengrocer’s daughter to the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain. MT earned all her laurels through sheer hard work, studying diligently to get into Oxford where  she studied chemistry and got her first taste of politics.

Upon graduation, she got a law degree, married Dennis Thatcher, and had twins in short order. Her passion for conservative politics increased, and she impressed party  members with her zeal and talent for debate. She won a seat in the House of Commons in 1959, and her rise in the party ranks was steady and sure, leading to her election in the eighties as Prime Minister, the first woman ever to head a major Western democracy. Vehemently anti-Communist and anti-waste, she curtailed government with a singular fervor, surprising everyone by going to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Tough as nails, Margaret explains her modus operandi thusly:

“I’ve got a fantastic stamina and great physical strength, and I have a woman’s abilitiy to stick to a job and get on with it when everyone else walks off and leaves.”

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


By Bertha Howell –  Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division ID cph.3a10320. Public Domain, Link

In the 1960s, big business came to be known as “The Man.” A hundred years before the hippie revolution, Mother Jones was giving The Man a kick in the wallet every chance she got. She organized her first labor strike at the midpoint of her life, age forty-seven, and devoted the rest of her life to establishing unions in coal mines, breweries, factories, and cotton mills over a span of forty years. Armed with steel-trap smarts, a tough, no-nonsense manner and endless courage, she fought her way to the forefront of the labor movement and paved the way for safer, more humane conditions for workers, including child labor laws and the eight-hour work day.

A charismatic leader who helped the underpaid and overworked laborers of America fight for their rights, Mary Harris Jones came to be known as Mother Jones because of her concern for the workers she came across. Portrayed in the many photos taken, as the sweetest of grandmothers in her proper Victorian gowns, hats, and spectacles, she was however, in her own words, “a hell-raiser.” Doubtless, she enjoyed the epithet once hurled at her by a prosecutor in West Virginia—“the most dangerous woman in America.”

She was born into a working-class family of revolutionaries. Her father and his father before him were both soldiers in the battle for Irish independence. Her grandfather was hanged for his participation in the revolution; her father escaped to North America to avoid arrest. Young Mary attended public school and trained both as a seamstress and a teacher. She taught at a convent in Monroe, Michigan, for a year before deciding
to set up a dressmaker’s shop in Chicago. The year 1860 found her in Memphis teaching; there she met and married George Jones, an iron worker, union member, and labor organizer, who died seven years later of yellow fever. This was enough to send her back to Chicago, where she applied her skill as a seamstress, making fancy dresses for the wealthy of Lake Shore Drive. Anger welled up inside her at the selfish wealthy folks she sewed for who blithely ignored the needy and basked in their sumptuous comforts.

Four years after losing George to yellow fever, Mary lost her shop to Chicago’s great fire, and she joined the ranks of the homeless. Her anger at the selfish wealthy class incited her to attend Knights of Labor meetings where she quickly became admired for her orations and argumentation. Mary Harris had found her true calling—as a labor activist, agitator, and activist. She was nothing short of brilliant. Her passionate calls to action were heard by thousands of Americans who were inspired by her to fight for basic human rights and respect as workers. She had an almost magical ability to band people together to fight against incredible odds.

“Women are the foundation of the nation,” she declared as she put her heart and soul into helping the condition of working women in rural areas and mountainous towns of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and as far west as Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. She forged a powerful sisterhood with these women and saw behind the shy
faces a steely strength that she helped them tap. “Women have great power, if only they knew how to use it,” she would declare often, urging women to focus their eyes on the prize of better pay, decent working conditions, and reduction of the soul-killing hours. “This is the fighting age. Put on your fighting clothes. You are too sentimental!”

Mother Jones labored in the trenches alongside the workers, sleeping on their floors in cold mountain shacks and sharing their scant food. While intellectuals theorized about class struggles and economic ideals, Mother Jones worked in the gritty reality of these people’s daily lives. She saw herself as one of the struggling, too, and babysat, cared for the sick, held the dying, and scavenged for food, clothing, coal, and money during strikes. Her distrust of the suffragette movement came from her total allegiance to the uneducated working poor; many of the suffragettes were of the monied, educated, upper class she so resented. She let them worry about getting the right to vote for women; she was making sure they could survive the business of making a living.

A victim of sexism, Mother Jones was never allowed to participate in the United Mine Workers of America she fought so hard for. Men completely ran the union; she was allowed no part of it. From the sidelines, she tried her best to advise in impassioned letters these men for whom she had built a powerful membership. Late in life, she was saddened by the infighting and corruption she was powerless to prevent.

Mother Jones championed the underdog at her own expense and often at enormous personal risk. Ahead of her time, she amazed West Virginia mine workers she had organized when she implored them to be more understanding of the foreign-born “scabs” who were sent to work the mines during strikes. She also lobbied on behalf of African American workers who suffered bigotry from the unions.

Born in the Victorian Age and brought up to be subservient, Mother Jones was a first generation Irish American who fought the good fight and left the world a better place for her class, for women, and for the ethnic groups trying to find their place among the workers of America. Mary Harris Jones was fortunate to live long enough to see many of the great changes she fought for in improving the lot of the working class. Iron-willed and lion-hearted, Mother Jones lived by her principles. A shero in both words and action, she reminds us all, “it is the militant, not the meek, who shall inherit the earth.”

“This Jeanne d’Arc of the miners was a benevolent
fanatic, a Celtic blend of sentiment and fire,
of sweetness and fight…(who) captured the
imagination of the American worker as no other
woman—perhaps no other leader—ever has.”

— Dale Fetherling on Mother Jones

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media

Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan: Peace Leaders

After a gap of thirty years in which no women won the Nobel Prize, two sheroes took the prize for peace in 1976—Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan. Williams, a Belfast housewife, and Corrigan, who had lost two children in her family to the war between the Irish Republican Army and the British soldiers, were leaders in the movement to stop the violence in Northern Ireland. They were cited as having demonstrated “what ordinary people can do to promote peace.”


Emily Greene Balch: 1946 Nobel Laureate

Emily Greene Balch
By Unknown -Nobel prize picture and has been released by her societies and websites., Public Domain, Link

One of Jane Addams’ partners in pacifism, Emily Greene Balch worked with Addams in WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) and took over leadership of the league upon Addams’ death in 1935. In 1946, Balch received the illustrious honor wherein she was acknowledged for her practical, solution-oriented approach to peace in her special work with Slav immigrants, her staunchness in the face of being fired from Wellesley for her war protests, and her key role in obtaining the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Haiti in 1926 after a decade-long occupation.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

European Battle Axes and Freedom Fighters, Part 4

Nancy Wake

Major Tamara Aleksandrovna was in charge of an all-female air force for Russia in World War II. Their phenomenal success is evidenced by their record of flying 125 combats, 4,000 sorties, and shooting down 38 Nazi aircraft. Other amazonian aviatrixes were Captain Budanova, Nancy Wake of New Zealand who flew for the allies in France and Ludmilla Pavlichenko who killed 309 Nazis by herself!

Nina Teitelboim, called “Little Wanda with the Braids,” was an anti-Nazi fighter who commanded a special force of Poland’s People’s Guard which blew up the elite Cafe Club, a hang-out for the top-ranking Gestapo. Thus empowered, she was part of a raid on the Nazis, stealing back the enormous stockpiles of cash the Nazis themselves had stolen from the people of Warsaw. After this success, the price of her head was higher than ever, and she was captured and executed.

Florence Matomelo was a soldier in the anti-apartheid resistance movement. In 1965, she was arrested for her role in the African National Congress (Pro Azanian or black South African rebel government) and confined to solitary where she was starved, beaten, interrogated, and deprived of the insulin she needed for her diabetes. She died after five years of this abuse, leaving behind several children. She had led a life of constant courage, defying and protesting the unfair practices of apartheid laws, and she died for her cause, having made invaluable contributions to the changes that finally freed black South Africans from the racist rule set up by colonial whites.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.