Unsung History

Unsung History

A podcast about people and events in American history you may not know much about. Yet.

Episodes

October 18, 2021 41 min

After the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, enfranchising (some) women, lots of questions remained. If women could vote, could they serve on juries? Could they hold public office? What about the array of state-laws that still privileged husbands and fathers over wives and daughters in regard to property and earnings rights? 

In February 1921, Alice Paul, head of the National Woman’s Party declared: “Now that political freedom has...

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Writer, musician, and political activist Zitkála-Šá, also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, was born on February 22, 1876, on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where she lived until she was eight.

When Zitkála-Šá was eight years old, missionaries came to the reservation to recruit children to  go to White's Indiana Manual Labor Institute. Despite her mother’s pleading, Zitkála-Šá begged to go to the school with her...

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Nearly 350,000 American women served in the US military during World War II. Although the women in the military didn’t engage in combat their presence was vital to the American effort, in clerical work as well as in driving trucks, operating radios and telephones, repairing and flying planes, and of course, in nursing.

Women’s active duty was a temporary wartime measure, but when the war ended, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, ...

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September 27, 2021 42 min

Slavery was legal in Maryland until November 1, 1864, when a new state constitution prohibited the practice of slavery. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation the year before had declared slaves in the Confederate states to be free, but Maryland was in the union and not included in the proclamation. From the late 18th Century until the Civil War, enslaved families in Prince George’s County, Maryland, brought over a thousand legal suit...

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September 20, 2021 42 min

Over a decade before Julia Child’s The French Chef appeared on TV, a Black woman chef hosted her own, very popular cooking show on WDSU-TV in New Orleans. At a time when families were just beginning to own televisions, Chef Lena Richard’s show was so popular that it aired twice a week.

Richard started working as a cook as a teenager for the wealthy Vairin family who employed her mom as a domestic servant. When their cook left, Alice...

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September 13, 2021 44 min

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), in 2018, 13% of the US population was Black and African American, but 42% of new HIV diagnoses in the US were from Black and African American people. This discrepancy is not new. 

On June 5, 1981, the CDC first published an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) titled “Pneumocystis Pneumonia” that suggested that there might be “a cellular-im...

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September 6, 2021 43 min

In the mid-1960s, to protest discriminatory hiring practices, Chicano groups in Colorado called for a boycott of the Coors Brewing Company, launching what would become a decades-long boycott that brought together a coalition of activists that would include not just Chicano and Latino groups, but also African American groups, union organizers, LGBT activists, students, environmentalists and feminists.

These groups had a variety of mo...

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In Nineteenth Century America there was a strong reformist push to know and improve the self. One key tactic Americans used to learn more about themselves was phrenological readings. They would pay practical phrenologists, like Orson Squire Fowler and his younger brother, Lorenzo Niles Fowler for readings of their skulls or their children’s skulls. 

In Lorenzo Fowler’s reading of Emily Sawyer, he concluded a thirteen-page analysis b...

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In Chesapeake Bay in the late 19th century, oyster harvesting was a big business. There were so many oyster harvesters harvesting so many oysters that the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia had to start regulating who could harvest oysters and how they could do so. Creating the regulations was the easy part; enforcing them was much harder. The illegal harvesting of oysters by oyster pirates continued, even after the creation of ...

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August 16, 2021 39 min

Popular depictions of prohibition in the United States usually show the speakeasies, bootleggers, flappers, and bathtub gin of the Roaring Twenties, but earlier attempts at prohibition stretch back far into the 19th century.

In 1851, Maine passed the first statewide prohibition law, and 12 other states quickly followed as temperance societies preached the evils of alcohol. Anti-prohibitionists, especially liquor dealers and hotel ow...

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In May of 1844, growing tensions between nativists and Irish Catholic immigrants in Philadelphia erupted into violence in the streets of the Irish Catholic Kensington district, prompted in part by a disagreement over whether the King James Bible should be read in public schools.

A citizen posse called by county sheriff Morton McMichael was unable to quell the violence, and the local state militia, under the command of General George...

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August 2, 2021 35 min

Elizabeth Packard was born in Massachusetts in 1816 into a comfortable home where her parents were able to provide for her education. She taught briefly at a girls’ school before at age 23 agreeing at her parents’ urging to marry 37-year-old Calvinist minister Theophilus Packard. Over the next 20 years Elizabeth was a devoted mother and housewife who grew the family’s vegetables and sewed clothes for their six children.

To the outsi...

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Mary Mallon, known to history as Typhoid Mary, immigrated from Northern Ireland to New York City at age 15, around 1883. She found work as a cook, a well paying job for an immigrant woman and worked for number of different families in the early 20th Century.

In March 1907, civil engineer George Soper burst into the kitchen of the home where she was cooking and told her that she was spreading typhoid via her cooking. He demanded samp...

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In 1945, United States immigration officials opened the El Centro Immigration Detention Camp in El Centro, California, to be an administrative holding center for unauthorized Mexican migrants, many of whom had been working on local farms and ranches. From the beginning, migrants were often detained for long periods of time while they served as the unpaid labor force of the center.

Conditions were poor in the facility in the decades ...

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On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court decided unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas that that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. Although the process was slow and contentious, the SCOTUS decisions in Brown and Brown II required that desegregation must occur "with all deliberate speed" to provide Black students with the equal protection under the law required by the 14th...

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Political activism of queer people in the United States started long before the Stonewall riots in 1969. One surprising place that queer people found a home for their activism was in the Communist Party. The Communist Party of the United States was established in 1919, and from the 1920s to the 1940s the Party was influential in American politics, at the forefront of labor organizing and opposition to racism. It was the first polit...

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June 28, 2021 41 min

Sophonisba “Nisba” Preston Breckinridge, born April 1, 1866, was a woman of firsts. Breckinridge was the first woman admitted to the Kentucky bar to practice law in 1895; the first woman to earn a PhD in Political Science at the University of Chicago in 1901; the first woman to earn a JD at the University of Chicago Law School in 1904; the first woman professor granted a named professorship at the University of Chicago in 1929; and...

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June 21, 2021 30 min

Susie King Taylor was born into slavery in Georgia in 1848. With the help of family members, she was educated and escaped, joining the Union army at the age of 14, to serve ostensibly as a laundress, but in reality as a nurse, teacher, and even musket preparer. In 1902, Taylor published Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, an autobiography that covers not just her experiences during the Civil ...

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Just after midnight on May 15, 1970, officers opened fire on a group of unarmed students milling in front of a dorm on the campus of Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi, killing two and wounding twelve. Although the shootings took place just a week and a half after the shootings at Kent State University, the Jackson State shootings never got the attention of those at Kent State, and when they did they were often described...

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June 7, 2021 34 min

Between America’s entry into World War I and the end of the war less than two years later, Americans knit 23 million articles of clothing and bandages for soldiers overseas, directed by the American Red Cross. How was this knitting organized? Who did the knitting? And why don’t more people know about this impressive feat? Kelly digs into the story of World War I knitting efforts and interviews Holly Korda, author of The Knitting Br...

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