Comics, Women's History Month

Nevertheless, She Persisted: Wally Funk

“So do we have a little bit of information here on how well do women do things? How well did they come across on the Mayflower? Terrific. How well did they go across the prairies and settle the West in their covered wagons? Great. Big families. Didn’t think anything about it. Why can’t we fly and go into space?… [N]obody wants to fail, and failure is not a part of my makeup. I do the best I can do and I kick as many doors in as I possibly can, no matter where I go.”

Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk (1939-    )

When she was five years old, Wally Funk donned her Superman cape and jumped off the roof of her family’s barn, in what she calls her “my first try at flying, just pure flying.”

Well, she didn’t so much fly as fall into a fortunately placed haystack. But she kept trying.

She built model airplanes from kits her father would bring home from the small general store he owned. She asked her mother to drive her to a small local airport so she could study the planes there. (Her mother, who also loved flying but had been forbidden from flight lessons by her parents, happily complied.)

Wally Funk got her private pilot’s license while attending a two-year college, then studied aviation at Oklahoma State University.  She wanted to become a commercial pilot, but two major airline companies rejected her application… because there were no women’s bathrooms at their schools for pilots.

Funk was conducting flight training for U.S. Army personnel at Fort Sill, Oklahoma when she heard that a private concern, with the support of NASA, was conducting tests for women astronauts, as a kind of complement to the male astronaut training program already underway.

She signed right up — after obtaining a special dispensation; at age 21, she was technically too young to apply — and with twenty-four other women, went through a battery of tests designed to replicate experience in space and zero gravity.

As part of the testing, Funk drank a pint of radioactive water.

She swallowed a three-foot length of rubber hose.

She spent ten and a half hours in an isolation tank. (A record.)

She scored higher on her tests than John Glenn, who eventually became the first American to orbit the earth.

Wally Funk and twelve other women passed the rigorous tests–they later became known as “The Mercury 13”– but before they could continue training, the order came down: all astronauts had to have experience as an Air Force pilot.

Since women were not permitted to be Air Force pilots at the time, this de facto meant no woman could qualify to be an astronaut.

Funk was disappointed, but she continued working as a flight instructor, and eventually became the first woman inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration as well as the first woman to serve as an Aircraft Accident Investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

And she has booked and paid for a ticket on Virgin Galactic’s first tourist flight into space, whenever that may happen.

She’ll wait.


Butler, Carol, interviewer. NASA Headquarters Oral History Project, Edited Oral History Transcript: Wally Funk, , July 18, 1999.

Krum, Sharon. “Space Cowgirl,” The Guardian (UK), April 2, 2002.

Stolley, Richard B. “Woman in Space: The Long-Delayed Flight of Wally Funk,” Time, April 18, 2012.

Background images in my drawing of Wally Funk come from October Afternoon’s “Rocket Age” series of scrapbook papers.


Comics, Women's History Month

Nevertheless, She Persisted: Madam C.J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove)

“You, too, may be a fascinating beauty” is a headline from a magazine advertisement for Madam Walker products; possibly the best assessment ever of the potential beauty products hold in the mind of the consumer, right up there with “hope in a jar.”

Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919)

Sarah Breedlove was born to freed slaves on a Louisiana plantation two years after the end of the Civil War. She was orphaned at age 7, married at age 14, and widowed at age 16, with a young daughter to look after.

And then, in her twenties, a dermatological condition made her hair fall out.

And so she set about inventing her own cure. She’d say say later that the idea for the ingredients came to her in a dream: “…a big black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up for my hair. I made up my mind I would begin to sell it.”

Her third husband, Charles J. Walker– a journalist who had experience in advertising — suggested she take the nom d’entreprise “Madam C.J. Walker.”

The success of her first product–“Wonderful Hair Grower” — led to the development of other products and implements, which Madam Walker and her husband would demonstrate at meetings held in various cities across the southern United States.

Eventually, Madam Walker opened her own factory to mass produce the products comprising “the Walker Method.” Saying, “I am not satisfied in making money for myself. I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race,” she opened schools to train “Walker Agents” — African-American saleswomen who demonstrated and sold the products door-to-door. (Madam Walker also sponsored additional self-empowerment classes, such as money management, for the Walker Agents.)

Rapidly, Madam Walker was one of the first women in America to become a self-made millionaire.  And she donated her wealth and time to African-American communities and causes across the United States, including the then-nascent NAACP, as well as the National Conference on Lynching.

Her belief in supporting causes larger than herself could well serve as an inspiration for the challenges we face today: “This is the greatest country under the sun. But we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice.”



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Comics, Women's History Month

Nevertheless, She Persisted: Abigail Adams

“These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues.”


Abigail Adams (1744-1818)

You know the highlights of the story, thanks to history textbooks, a Broadway musical, the movie version of the Broadway musical, the PBS mini-series, the revival of the Broadway musical (starring Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation), the HBO mini-series, New York Times bestselling books, and maybe even from the supernatural-thriller TV series Sleepy Hollow (though, in that last example, strict adherence to historical facts is not guaranteed).

Heck, even an early issue of Wonder Woman, published in 1942, included a mini-biography of Abigail Adams.

But let’s review:

–even though girls of the Colonial Era weren’t widely given access to formal education,  Abigail Adams became one of the most brilliant women of her era — or any era — thanks to home schooling by her mother, and by availing herself of her father and grandfather’s large home libraries

–she gave birth to six children in twelve years (five survived); her son John Quincy Adams later became President of the United States

–she ran the household and the family farm while her husband John was away at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia

–she missed her husband’s Inauguration because she was tending to her dying mother-in-law

–when her brother, her brother-in-law, and her son Charles all became incapacitated by alcoholism, she brought all their children to Washington, DC to live in the White House

–she kept up on current events and political developments; her husband respected her knowledge, and often asked for her advice, to the point that naysayers called her “Mrs. President”

–and through it all, she wrote hundreds of letters, many of them witty, all of them wise and full of sage advice, all of them providing a window into the mind of a wholly remarkable person.


Comic Vine, an online comics database, duly gives Abigail Adams a character bio based on her short feature in Wonder Woman #14 (“Wonder Woman in Shamrock Land”).

Seemingly without irony, Comic Vine lists Abigail Adams’s “super[hero] name” as … “Abigail Adams.”

Seems appropriate.


Birds, Comics, Women's History Month

Nevertheless, She Persisted: Rosalie Barrow Edge


“She dresses with conservative elegance for office and for society, wearing black satin dresses, and hats with imposing superstructures compounded of things like bristles, fruit, bows, flowers, nets, and buckles.” —The New Yorker

Rosalie Barrow Edge (1877-1962)

Even one of her friends called her an “indomitable hellcat.”

An anonymous officer of the Audubon Society referred to her as a “very hot potato.”

And the Audubon Society itself, through its attorney, dismissed her as a “common scold.”

New York socialite-turned-ardent conservationist Rosalie Barrow Edge was unmoved by this last insult; years afterward, she wryly described her response: “Imagine how I trembled.”

That sarcastic phrase could have served as her lifelong motto.  In her twenties, inspired by a British suffragette she met aboard a transatlantic voyage, Edge became wholly dedicated to the cause of women’s suffrage — despite the fact that her husband was staunchly against women having the right to vote.

But Edge found her true calling when she and her family purchased a summer home in Westchester County, New York, and she started observing the bird life there.  Her interest turned into a hobby, and  her hobby turned into an all-consuming passion. (Again, her husband was less than enthused: a New Yorker feature article notes, “By and large, [Edge] believes, he was no fonder of birds than he was of woman’s suffrage.”)

When she connected with a zoologist from the American Museum of Natural History during one of her bird-watching excursions into Central Park, and the zoologist expressed to her his concerns about conservation, Edge indefatigably dedicated herself — at age 52– to the preservation of American wildlife.

Utilizing some of the skills she’d acquired in her efforts for women’s suffrage, he wrote a seemingly unending series of letters to government agencies and major publications of the day on the topic.  She authored pamphlet upon pamphlet on wildlife facts, in an attempt to dispel common myths which led to the mass killing of many species. One Edge pamphlet, entitled “Eagle in Wonderland,” refuted the popular belief that eagles could carry off small children — although she did concede, sniffily, that “a well-muscled eagle can lift about four pounds, and that if a four-pound baby were sitting on a lofty rock, such an eagle might conceivably pick it up. ‘So,’ she says, ‘if you have a four-pound baby, perhaps you shouldn’t leave it unattended on a rock.'”

Rosalie Barrow Edge attracted fans via her writings, and they helped her in her endeavors; she and a small group once assailed actress Olivia de Havilland’s apartment in the St. Regis hotel in order to rescue a group of duck hawks from de Havilland’s balcony.

And when one of her admirers managed to obtain correspondence indicating that rangers in Yellowstone National Park were engaging in the savage destruction of white pelicans there–how, exactly, the correspondence was obtained was, and is, murky–Edge promptly redacted the names of those involved, and released the letters publicly.  The resultant uproar persuaded the National Park Service to tell the rangers at Yellowstone to lay off bashing the pelicans.

Her battles with the Audubon Society, which resulted in a years-long lawsuit (and the “common scold” moniker), were based in her belief that the Society –largely run by men–was far too accommodating to business interests and hunters, and that as a result, the organization was not truly honoring its commitment to wildlife.

You may not be surprised to learn Edge won the lawsuit.

Edge was also instrumental in the effort to create Olympic National Park in Washington and Kings Canyon National Park in California. But her most lasting legacy is probably  Hawk Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania.  For years, the site had been the location of an annual, bloody hunt of hawks and eagles. In 1934, after seeing pictures of the annual slaughter, Edge bought the land, stopped the hunt, and established a sanctuary for birds of prey. In 1960, Hawk Mountain was where Rachel Carson made some of the first observations which resulted in her ecological classic Silent Spring.

To this day, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary remains an invaluable scientific and cultural resource, open to the public.

Fancy how Rosalie Barrow Edge would tremble.

Sources for this article include:

Articles on by Dyana Z. Furmansky, author of the book Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists, University of Georgia Press, 2009.

The “Fancy how I trembled” anecdote is recounted in “Conservation’s First Lady,”a review of Furmansky’s book by Laura Paskus, High Country News, July 21, 2009.

Taylor, Robert Lewes.”Oh, Hawk of Mercy!”, The New Yorker, April 17, 1948.

Also: I know that the hawk and the eagle are not drawn in correct scale.  I messed up.


Mary Mapes Dodge
Comics, Women's History Month

Nevertheless, She Persisted: Mary Mapes Dodge

Mary Mapes Dodge

Mary Mapes Dodge (1831-1905)

Although she’s now mainly remembered for her children’s novel Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates, Mary Mapes Dodge’s largest influence on literature may have been through her editorship of St. Nicholas Magazine.

Widowed at age 27, and with two children to support, Dodge began writing short stories and poems. After the success of Hans Brinker in 1865, she was hired by editor Harriet Beecher Stowe to run the household and children’s departments of the magazine Hearth and Home. From there, Dodge became the first editor of St. Nicholas Magazine, a monthly periodical aimed at children.  She was able to persuade many great authors to publish stories in St. Nicholas Magazine, including Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jack London, and Rudyard Kipling. Issues of the magazine featured lavish and detailed illustrations by some of the greatest illustrators of the era, including Charles Dana Gibson, Arthur Rackham and Howard Pyle.

Mary Mapes Dodge felt that children themselves should play an active part in the magazine; not only did each issue offer –in addition to fiction and poetry — a variety of puzzles and activities aimed at all ages, but St. Nicholas Magazine solicited writing and art submissions from its readers, and offered prizes for the best work. (In the years after Dodge’s tenure at the magazine, winning these competitions proved indicative of later artistic and literary success: E.B. White, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay and William Faulkner were all prize winners.)

On the cover of many issues, Dodge is not credited as “editor,” rather, her byline is “Conducted by Mary Mapes Dodge.”  And “conductor” suits her In every sense of the word — “leader,” “guide,” “collector,” and perhaps most of all, “material capable of transferring energy from one medium to another.”



Comics, Women's History Month



PUBLIC LAW 100-9-MAR. 12, 1987

Public Law 100-9
100th Congress

Joint Resolution

To designate the month of March, 1987, as “Women’s History Month”.

Whereas American women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made historical contributions to the growth and strength of the Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways;

Whereas American women have played and continue to play a critical economic, cultural, and social role in every sphere of our Nation’s life by constituting a significant portion of the labor force working in and outside of the home;

Whereas American women have played a unique role throughout our history by providing the majority of the Nation’s volunteer labor force and have been particularly important in the establishment of early charitable philanthropic and cultural institutions in this country;

Whereas American women of every race, class, and ethnic background served as early leaders in the forefront of every major progressive social change movement, not only to secure their own right of suffrage and equal opportunity, but also in the abolitionist movement, the emancipation movement, the industrial labor movement, the civil rights movement, and other movements to create a more fair and just society for all; and

Whereas, despite these contributions, the role of American women in history has been consistently overlooked and undervalued in the body of American history: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. That the month of March, 1987, is designated as ‘Women’s History Month”, and the President is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe such month with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

Approved March 12,1987.
Feb. 26, considered and passed Senate.
Mar. 3, considered and passed House.

So, I was thinking … “you know, drawing illustrations of great American women for Women’s History Month seems to me like an appropriate ceremony & activity.”

Stay tuned for more during the month of March.