The Women of the Special Operations Executive

During the Second World War the UK’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) had around 50 agents who were female. A small number of these women became fairly well-known, the best examples of these are Violette Szabo, Odette Sansom- Hallowes, and Noor Inyat Khan.

Many of the other female agents can be considered as fairly unknown characters in our history. Some agents found a little fame after the war that had nothing to do with their wartime service for example Lorraine Adie Copeland, wife of CIA agent Miles Copeland, mother of Stuart Copeland and brilliant archaeologist.

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Emilie du Chatelet

This week’s post is written for us by Eileen Tull, who is directing a workshop of a play about Emilie du Chatelet’s life.

I’ve always been something of a history nerd. I come from a long line of history teachers, so I grew up watching Ken Burns’ documentaries, voraciously consuming books about historical figures, and enduring my father’s repetitive jokes about the battle strategies of the French. What most fascinated me, though, was the ever-evolving role of women in history, from Queen Elizabeth to Sacajawea to Carrie Nation to Eleanor Roosevelt.

As I grew up, I began to pursue my creativity passions: the theatre! Through my career, I have created a handful of theatrical projects stemming from history or relating to historical figures in some way.

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Anne Bonny & Mary Read – Swashbuckling Sheroes!

Anne Bonny and Mary Read are two of the most well known female pirates who ever lived! They sailed the seas of the Caribbean, gaining a reputation for how fearsome they were.

Anne Bonny (then Cormac) was born in Ireland in 1702, while Mary Read was born in Plymouth around the same time (no-one knows the exact year she was born.)

Anne’s father was a wealthy man who had left his wife for her mother, who was a servant. When Anne was a child her father dressed her up as a boy and said that she was his nephew, to avoid the shame of having a child with a woman he wasn’t married to. Eventually, when Anne was a young child, their family left Ireland to travel to the ‘New World’: America.

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Caroline Norton

*Trigger warning* Domestic Violence
Caroline Norton, came from a privileged and politically connected family, was a society beauty and was a celebrated writer of poetry.

After the death of her father in South Africa, her family became penniless and she was pressurised into a marriage to support her family. In 1827 she married George Norton who was the Tory MP for Guildford, but Caroline was a Whig who wanted social reform and was interested in improving the lives of factory workers. The pair were political opposites and did not get on with each other.

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Zitkala-Ša – The Sun Dance Shero

Zitkala-Ša (which means ‘Red Bird’), also known by the name Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, was a Native American writer, musician and activist. She was born on 22nd February 1876 on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her mother was a Sioux American Indian, her father a white American who left the family when Zitkala was only young.

In 1884 Christian missionaries came to the reservation and took many of the children, including Zitkala, away from their home, traveling 700 miles to their missionary school. Despite her mother’s concerns, she allowed Zitkala to leave, at the age of 8, to attend White’s Manual Labor Institute in Indiana.

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Marilyn Monroe – The Shero Behind the Starlet

*Trigger warning sexual assault*

Marilyn Monroe conjures up different images for different people. Little known is the ingenuity behind the glamorous star, who owned a library of over 400 books, an IQ higher than Einstein and a knack for determining revolutions.

Championing civil rights, Marilyn used her fame to support the beginning of the end of discrimination. 1950s America saw extreme segregation, and black musicians were often faced with the brunt of it. Ella Fitzgerald, one such lady, found difficulty finding gigs in the late ‘50s. Marilyn called the Mocambo Club, being a fan of Ella’s herself, and told them if they hired Fitzgerald she would watch front row every time. Ella has stated since that Monroe was ‘ahead of her time’.

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Mary McLeod Bethune – Educator & Civil Rights Shero

Mary Mcleod Bethune was an amazing woman; an African-American teacher, who started her own school for girls from scratch and went on to be an advisor to presidents, campaigner for civil, and human, rights and champion of girls and young people.

Mary was born in 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina, she was the fifteenth of seventeen children, and her parents were former slaves. From a very young age Mary worked in the fields with the rest of her family. Mary was the only child in the whole family who was lucky enough to go to school; she had to walk eight miles there and back, to a school which only had one room, and was only for black children. Because no-one else in her family could attend, she would come home from school each day and pass on what she had learned to her brothers and sisters.

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