Unsung History

Unsung History

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


October 3, 2022 47 min

Through the 19th Century, the US-Mexico border moved repeatedly, and the shifting borderlands were a space of cultural and economic transition that often gave rise to racialized gendered violence.  

In this episode I speak with Dr. Bernadine Hernández, Associate Professor of American Literary Studies at the University of New Mexico, an activist with fronteristxs, and author of Border Bodies: Racialized Sexuality, Sexual Capital, and...

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In mid-1930s, pregnant women in cities in California, Oregon, and Washington could obtain safe surgical abortions in clean facilities from professionals trained in the latest technique. The only catch? The abortions were illegal.

The syndicate that provided these abortions was the Pacific Coast Abortion Ring, which  operated from 1934 to 1936 with clinic locations in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and San Diego, Long Beach, ...

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For birth control advocate Mary Ware Dennett, the personal was political. After a difficult labor and delivery with her third child, a physician told Mary Ware Dennett she should not have any more children, but he told her nothing about how to prevent pregnancy. Dennett’s husband began an affair with a client of his architectural firm, destroying their marriage, and Dennett devoted her work to ensuring that other couples could rece...

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September 12, 2022 41 min

In 1742, in Pomfret, Connecticut, 19-year-old Sarah Grosvenor discovered she was pregnant, the result of a liaison with 27-year-old Amasa Sessions. Instead of marrying Sarah, Amasa provided her with a physician-prescribed abortifacient, what the youth of Pomfret called “taking the trade." When that didn’t work to end the pregnancy, the physician attempted a manual abortion, which led to Sarah’s death. Three years later, the phy...

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September 5, 2022 42 min

Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, whose books have been outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. You can probably name several of her books and recurring characters, but how much do you know about Agatha Christie herself? In our final British History episode, we look at Agatha Christie’s life, in the hospital dispensary, at home with her daughter, abroad on archeological digs, and behind the typewriter.


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August 29, 2022 48 min

When the United Kingdom joined forces with Turkey and France to declare war on Russia in March 1854, Jamaican-Scottish nurse Mary Seacole decided her help was needed. When the British War Office declined her repeated offers of help, she headed off to Crimea anyway and set up her British Hotel near Balaklava. The British Hotel, which opened in March 1855, was a combination general store, restaurant, and first aid station, and the Br...

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August 22, 2022 42 min

Henrietta Maria, the French Catholic wife of King Charles I of England, Scotland, and Ireland in the 17th Century, was called a “Popish brat of France” by her British subjects, blamed for the English Civil War, and seen as a mannish and heartless mother. The reality is, of course, much more nuanced. Henrietta Maria fiercely loved Charles and their children and fought to protect them in any way she could during a time of upheaval an...

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August 15, 2022 42 min

During the Golden Age of Pirates, two fierce and ruthless pirates stood apart from the rest, despite their brief careers. The only women in their crew, Anne Bonny and Mary Read were aggressive fighters to the end, refusing to surrender even when their captain called for quarter.  

Joining me to discuss Anne Bonny and Mary Read is pirate expert Dr. Rebecca Simon, author of the new book, Pirate Queens: The Lives of Anne Bonny & Ma...

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August 8, 2022 36 min

During World War II, the United States Army contracted with a group of engineers at the University of Pennsylvania Moore School of Electrical Engineering to build the ENIAC, the world’s first programmable general-purpose electronic digital computer in order to more quickly calculate numbers for ballistics tables. Once the top-secret device was built, someone needed to figure out how to program the more than 17,000 vacuum tubes, 70,...

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August 1, 2022 43 min

A February 2021 report by National Nurses United found that while Filipinos make up 4% of RNs in the United States, they accounted for a stunning 26.4% of the registered nurses who had died of COVID-19 and related complications. Why are there so many Filipino nurses in the United States and especially so many of the frontlines of healthcare? To answer that question, we need to look at the history of American colonization of The Phi...

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July 25, 2022 44 min

When Alabama plantation owner Samuel Townsend died in 1856, he willed his vast fortune to his children and his nieces. What seems like an ordinary bequest was anything but, since Townsend’s children and nieces were his enslaved property. Townsend, who knew the will would be challenged in court, left nothing to chance, hiring the best lawyer he could find to ensure that his legatees received both their freedom and the resources they...

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When Benjamin Franklin died in April 1790, his last will contained an unusual codicil, leaving 1000 pounds sterling each to Philadelphia and Boston, to be used in a very specific way that he hoped would both help tradesmen in the two cities and eventually leave the cities, and their respective states, with fortunes to spend on public works 200 years later. At a moment when it wasn’t clear whether the United States would survive at ...

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July 11, 2022 47 min

Dale Evans is probably best known as the Queen of the West, the wife and co-star of the King of Cowboys, Roy Rogers. But before she ever met Roy, Dale had a successful career in singing, songwriting, and acting, and she had plans to be an even bigger star in musicals, which to Dale, meant not Westerns

This week we do a deep dive into the life of Dale Evans and how she became a cowgirl, with historian Dr. Theresa Kaminski, author o...

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July 4, 2022 36 min

On July 4, Americans will eat 150 million hot dogs, spend $1 billion on beer, and watch 16,000 fireworks displays (and those are just the official ones). But why do we celebrate on July 4, when did it become a national holiday, and did John Adams eat hot dogs?

Joining me for the story of the Declaration of Independence, why July 4th might not be the right date to be celebrating, and who the signers actually were, is historian, podca...

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June 27, 2022 51 min

On a hot weekend night in August 1966 trans women fought back against police harassment at Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Although the Compton’s riot didn’t spark a national movement the way Stonewall would three years later, it did have an effect, leading to the creation of support services for transgender people in San Francisco, and a reduction in police brutality against the trans community.


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In the summer of 1990, at the third annual Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the term Two Spirit was established. An English translation of the Northern Algonquin term niizh manitoag, Two Spirit describes masculine and feminine qualities within a single person. As a pan tribal term, Two Spirit both connected organizers across different Native nations and also helped them re-discover th...

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The 12-story Women’s House of Detention, situated in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City, from 1932 to 1974, was central to the queer history of The Village. The House of D, as it was known, housed such inmates as Angela Davis, Afeni Shakur, Andrea Dworkin, and Valerie Solanas, and was formative in their thinking and writing. On the night of the Stonewall Riots, the incarcerated women and transmaculaine people in the Ho...

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Queer suffragists were central to the women’s suffrage movement in the United States from its earliest days. However, in a movement that placed great importance on public image in service of the goal of achieving the vote, queer suffragists who pushed the boundaries of “respectability” were sometimes ostracized, and others hid their queerness, or had it erased by others.

Joining me to help us learn about queer suffragists is histori...

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During Reconstruction, cotton planters in the Mississippi Delta recruited Chinese laborers to work on their plantations, to replace the emancipated slaves who had previously done the hard labor. However, the Chinese workers quickly learned that they couldn’t earn enough money picking cotton to send back to their families, and they turned instead to running small grocery stores, filling a niche in the market of the Deep South. At on...

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May 23, 2022 50 min

In Patsy Mink’s first term in Congress in 1965, she was one of only 11 women serving in the US House of Representatives, and she was the first woman of color to ever serve in Congress. Mink was no stranger to firsts, being the first Japanese-American woman licensed to practice law in Hawaii, after being one of only two women in her graduating class at the University of Chicago Law School. She would later be the first Asian American...

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