History’s Heroines

Madame de Pompadour – Artist, Mistress, Trend Setter

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, may be best known as King Louis XV's Chief Mistress. But she was also a highly educated tastemaker, a patron of the arts, and an artist in her own right

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson a.k.a Madame de Pompadour ; 1721- 1764

photo courtesy WYPR


She was born Jeanne Antoinette Poisson but is most recognizable by the name given her by King Louis XV; Madame de Pompadour. Groomed since childhood for the job, Jeanne gained a position in the court of King Louis XV in 1745, rising through the ranks to Duchess in 1752 and eventually to “lady-in-waiting to the Queen” by 1756. The latter was the highest, most noble position a woman could attain in the court. She was also a close friend, advisor, and confidant to the King, and held so much influence over him that many considered her the prime minister. In that capacity, she was responsible for hiring and firing within the court, and also held much influence in domestic and foreign policy decisions.

Apart from politics, however, Jeanne was a great champion and patron of the arts. It is she, who is considered responsible for making Paris the cultural capital of the world. As a “minister of the arts”, she hosted parties, plays, musical performances, and outings for the royal family and court. She was also responsible for the construction of the famed Sévres porcelain factory, sponsored a number of court painters and lobbied for the publication of the first encyclopedia. She decorated the Versailles palace with such opulence that many considered it a flame that would stoke the coming French Revolution. 


“Amour” engraving Photo courtesy britishmuseum.org

She was herself was also an artist. Bringing drills and other implements of her trade into her Versailles apartment, she at first, drew suspicion. Later it was learned that she was actually making art in her room! Jeanne sketched, engraved, and make jewelry. Overall, she made 52 engravings of miniature scenes and of animals, which she then carved into cameos and semi-precious gemstones many of which were then made into necklaces and bracelets. A portfolio of her original etchings was recently found and are now on display at the Walters Museum in Baltimore, MD.

photo courtesy of npr.org

                       photo courtesy of npr.org

Caroline Weldon – Painter and Sioux Advocate



Susanna Faesch (Caroline Weldon)

Dec. 4, 1844 – March 15, 1921

Photo courtesy of Greenwood Cemetary

The Industrial Revolution brought significant cultural, geographical, and technological change to the United States in the latter half of the 19th Century. At the same time, the discovery of gold in California pushed white settlement across the vast, Native, continent.

While some benefitted greatly from both these situations, minorities of gender and race would be denied the respect of equal treatment under the law for decades, if not more than a century, to come.

It was this very cultural premise that was the catalyst for the choices that would shape Caroline Weldon’s life. Susanna Fasch (who would later changer her name to Caroline Weldon)was born in Switzerland in 1844 and would immigrate to the United States with her mother a few years later. The two settled in Brooklyn, New York, where her mother married a doctor. In the years to come, Susanna, too, would also marry a doctor. Her marriage, however, was unhappy and short-lived. After Susanna “ran away” with a married man, Susanna’s husband divorced her. To compound a problematic situation, Susanna became pregnant and bore her lover a son named Christie. After the child’s birth, however, the lover went back to his wife, leaving Susanna to raise the child alone.

At this time in history, for Susanna to bear the dual societal labels of “divorcee” and “single mother” made her a social outcast. Laws of time, forbade her the right to re-marry, a power her ex-husband retained and which also prevented her from obtaining any support in raising the child. During this time, Susanna combined her talent as a painter, with her interest in the recent political movements regarding the Lakota-Sioux Tribe.

As white westward migration progressed, a social debate ensued about the rights of Native Americans. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 had created and pushed Native Americans onto government-controlled lands. The country became split in their support of this action; some believed it to be a threat to the U.S. to allow these tribes to maintain their culture and traditions. In opposition to this belief, the National Indian Defense Organization (NIDO) was founded. The foundation of the group was to protect and uphold the tribes’ sovereignty through U.S. law.


sitting-bull-4Sitting Bull by Caroline Weldon

photo courtesy of history.com

In 1887, the Dawes Act was passed into law. This Act divided native lands into individual plots which were then given to individual indigenous families. In exchange for the land, the individuals/families had to register on the Dawes Rolls and allow their children to be assimilated into white culture and educational systems. That same year, settlers living in the Dakota Territory sought to enact a similar law. Seeing the devastation it had wrought upon the Cherokee Tribe, and by then herself a member of the NIDO, Susanna contacted Sitting Bull, Chief of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux Tribe. Through a series of back and forth communications, Susanna sent the Chief letters and maps explaining the Sioux Bill proposal and the effects it would have upon the tribe.

After two years of communicating with Sitting Bull, Susanna and her son boarded a train bound for South Dakota. The Chief was sick when she arrived, now bearing the name Caroline Weldon. Ever gracious; however, he left his sick bed to meet her. Throughout the following years, she became his assistant, tribal representative, advisor, and interpreter. Though they were never romantically involved, she and Sitting Bull became quite close. During her time on the reservation, she painted four portraits of the leader, two of which still exist today. Her work with the tribe and active opposition to the Sioux Bill gained her many enemies within the U.S. Government. Local government officials vilified her in the press. She had become as much an outcast among white settlers in South Dakota as she had been in New York.

Tensions between the government and the tribe were at an all-time high when a religious movement called Ghost Dance swept through the area. It was purported that the songs and dances of Ghost Dance would make the white men disappear. Suspicious, Caroline (Susanna) warned Sitting Bull that in allowing the tribe to do the Dance, they would become considered agitators in open defiance of the U.S. and would, therefore, would become targets of aggression. The two disagreed and Sitting Bull allowed the Dance to continue. Caroline and her son left the reservation in a painful farewell. Within a year, Caroline’s foretellings came true when the government attacked the tribe in the Massacre at Wounded Knee. Sitting Bull was arrested and killed. Around the same time, Caroline’s son, Christie died in a riverboat accident in South Dakota.

Alone, she returned to Brooklyn, where her social acceptance had not improved, and thus she fell into obscurity. The Sioux Bill passed, and the tribe was devastated. Through it all, Susanna risked her life to do what was right for others despite the effects it had on her own life. She spoke out for those whose voices were, at the time, seen as negligible.

Her life’s work has been written about in poems and plays, as well as a movie, Woman Walks Ahead, released in 2018. The North Dakota Historical Society holds one of her surviving Sitting Bull paintings, while in Little Rock, AR, the Historic Arkansas Museum, holds the second.


#carolineweldon #womanwalksahead #sioux

Louise Lemaire Chéruit – First Lady of Fashion


Louise Lemaire Chéruit 

1866 Paris – 1955

photo courtesy of alchtron.com

     Louise Lemaire Chéruit was born in Paris to a seamstress mother, just before the onset of La Belle Époche, a time of great optimism and prosperity. Louise’s mother taught both her and her sister, Marie Lemaire Huit, the fine art of dressmaking – a skill that would later lead Louise to be considered to be one of the greatest female courtiers of all time.

Coming of age in the 1880’s, at a time when the great Impressionists, Monet, Degas, Renoir, et al, were revolutionizing art, Louise and her sister were doing the same in fashion. It was then that the sisters took positions at Raudnitz et Cie, a prominent courtier fashion house in Paris. The two rose quickly through the ranks and by 1895, the sisters’ names were embroidered on the labels sewn into the house’s clothing. Just five years later, Louise and Marie took over the company, and thus the labels were again changed to read: Chéruit and Huit, Srs, formerly Raudnitz and Co.

With a company with over 100 employees and a prominent location in the Hotel Fontpertuis, Paris, Madame Chéruit was well on her way to success. Her client lists bore society’s top names and her shows were among the first to feature live runway models.
Her design style was fashion forward and lead the trend from Victorian to Belle Époche to the Jazz Ages, including her creation of the famous “Flapper Dress.” The House of Chéruit thus became one of fashion’s preeminent designers. Along with her contemporaries, in 1912, Louise worked collaboratively to create La Gazette du Bon Ton, the industry’s first fashion magazine, featuring Art Nouveau illustrations of the designers’ latest creations. She is also credited with launching the career of the now famous Paul Poirot.

La Gazette du Bon Ton photo courtesy of Circaa

           La Gazette du Bon Ton
          photo courtesy of Circaa

When war hit, in 1914, Madame Chéruit was one of the only houses to remain open. It was during this time that she met an Austrian man of noble birth with whom she fell in love. It was an affair that not only destroyed her almost twenty-year marriage to Prosper Chéruit, but would also cost her reputation, and empire. Her lover, being a high-ranking officer in the Austrian military was accused of being a spy for the German’s. Rumors soon spread of Chéruit’s involvement with the Austrian, and she too was thus accused of being a spy.

While the accusations were eventually proven false, Chéruit’s career was over. By 1915, she had sold the House of Chéruit to Madames Wormser and Boulanger who brought their own perspective to the company’s design style. Louise continued to design for the company for the next ten years behind the scenes, however, her taste for the opulent was no longer the leading trend in the post-war City of Light. She retired in 1923 fading into somewhat obscurity after being one of fashion’s greatest icons. In 1935, designer Elsa Schiaparelli took over the House of Cheruit’s 98-room studio and showroom.

Though the magazine is long out of print, La Gazette du Bon Ton can still be found in many local libraries. Louise’s legacy also lives on in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, and Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Vile Bodies.
Madame Chéruit passed away in 1955.


Salon at House of Chéruit

By unidentified photographer – L’Illustration (magazine)

Mary Golda Ross- First Native American, Female Engineer

photo credit: @megan5mem

       photo credit: @megan5mem

Mary Golda Ross

Aug. 9, 1908, Oklahoma – April 29, 2008, California

One year after Oklahoma was inducted into the United States as its 46th state, Miss Mary G. Ross was born. As the great-great-granddaughter of Cherokee Nation Chief, John Ross, Mary grew up in the tribe’s capital of Tahlequah, where she lived with her grandparents. Her family espoused the Cherokee Nation tribe’s innate value of the importance of equal education for both boys and girls.

Having attained her primary and secondary educations in Talequa, Miss Ross then attained a Bachelor’s Degree from Northeast State College in Mathematics and later, a Master’s Degree, also in Mathematics, from Colorado State College, the latter, in which, according to Mary, she took “every astronomy course they had.” Though she was often the only female in her classes, Mary was undeterred, instead, finding the humor and challenge of her position.

Upon her graduation, she taught high school mathematics, before moving from Oklahoma to Washington D.C. where she found a position as a statistician within the Bureau for Indian Affairs.
When the United States entered the Second World War in 1941, Ms. Ross, at the advice of her father, moved to California. By the following year, she had secured a job as a mathematician for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank, California. During the war, she participated in many projects including the P-38, the fastest airplane of the time. Mary proved herself such a knowledgeable, competent, capable mathematician that her manager sent her to UCLA to attain an engineering degree, paid for by Lockheed.

After the war, and now, with an additional degree, Mary was promoted to highly sensitive projects, many of whom remain classified to this day. It is known, however, that she participated in both the RM-81 Agena and Trident Rocket programs, both of which were crucial predecessors for the manned Apollo Spacecraft that went to the moon. Ms. Ross was also the only female (other than the secretary) to be on the “Skunk Works” team; a top-secret program focused on interplanetary space travel, and satellite development and launch programs.
By the 1960’s she was a senior, advanced-systems engineer within the Lockheed Corporation, working on the development of space re-entry vehicles, among them, the Polaris. Among her many duties, she co-authored the NASA Planetary Flight Handbook, Vol. III.

Though she retired from Lockheed in 1973, she didn’t slow down. In the following years, she would dedicate herself to the encouragement of Native American youth towards education and careers in mathematics, science, and engineering.
In the 1990’she was given an achievement award by both the American Indians in Science and Engineering Society and also the Council of Energy Resource Tribes for her lifelong work with the organizations. Mary also was inducted into the Silicon Valley Engineer’s Council Hall of Fame in 1992, among numerous other achievements and awards. A sculpture in her honor and likeness graces the gardens at Buffalo State College, in Buffalo New York.
Ms. Ross passed away just four months before her 100th birthday.

Mary Gold Ross is considered the first-ever female Native American Engineer, and the first female engineer to ever work at Lockheed Corporation.

Louise Pommery – La Grande Dame of Champagne


Louise Pommery 


     At 38 years old, Louise Pommery, born Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Melin Pommery, became pregnant with her second child. That this news came seventeen years after the birth of her first child, and at a time when she and her husband, Alexandre Pommery were planning to retire suggests surprise. Having made their fortune in the wool industry, Monsieur, and Madame Pommery, thus switched gears and rather than retire, entered the wine business.

It was in Reims, a town less than an hour from Paris by train, in what is known today as the Champagne region of France. that the Pommery’s lived when they began their winery.  It is only in that part of France that sparkling wines made of grapes and produced in that region may be called Champagne. In 1856, when the Pommery’s entered the wine industry they were making still red wines. Just two years into their venture, Alexandre died leaving Louise with a young child and a new business. In his absence, Louise took the helm at the winery. There, she changed not only the company’s focus from the production of still red wine to that of champagne but also, the very way that Champagne worldwide is now produced and tasted. At the time, Champagne was made from green grapes harvested in the spring. They were bitter and therefore the wine made from them required the addition of a significant amount of sugar in order to be palatable. It was served as a dessert wine sipped from small V-shaped glasses. Louise Pommery took a risk in asking her grape- farmers to wait until fall to harvest when the fruit’s natural sugars would be higher thus eliminating the need for the addition of processed sugars. It was a risk well taken and one that would result in the development of enormous markets worldwide as Champagne became a beverage of class and distinction.


photo courtesy of Jetset Magazine

     Beneath the town of Reims are miles of chalk tunnels mined by Roman slaves centuries ago. With optimal temperature and humidity, Madame Pommery produced her champagne in these tunnels, as did Madame Cliquot, just a few miles away at her own Champagne house. In unison, Pommery and Cliquot developed the region as a wine destination for English and American tourists that still endures to the day. During WWI, Reims was one of the cities hardest hit, with the Reims Cathedral suffering significant damage along with vast parts of the town. Though they continued operations as best they could during the war, Pommery and Cliquot, along with other champagne houses in the region, tuned their miles of chalk tunnels into an underground shelter from the bombing with each arm being designated for various purposes: government, school, hospital, and housing for the town’s residents. The tunnels were used again to protect citizens during the Second World War.


569_001_51-reims-champagne-de-pommery-greno-n-207-b-0281   bonal_p_171-5b1cdc1e586c9c8eaefc9b5f2a854da269f1b--champagne-lanson-so-british

Photos courtesy of Messy Nessy Chic

     After her passing in 1890, Louise’s children, Louis and Louise, took over the company, eventually passing it down the generations on the daughter, Louise’s, side. Today, the company is part of the Vranken-Pommery- Monopole holdings. The Pommery Estate honors its founder, Louise Pommery with the vintage brut Champagne, Cuvée Louise.



Tamara de Lempicka – Baroness with a Brush


Tamara de Lempicka

May 16, 1898, Warsaw – March 18, 1980, Mexico

     Tamara de Lempicka is considered the most famous female painter of the Art Deco Movement. Her style embodied the luxury and sophistication of a world eager to move past the pains of war. Art Deco gained its roots in the Art and Crafts Movement (1880-1920), and further inspiration from Art Nouveau (1880-1910). Like those two styles, the Art Deco Movement (1910-1939) encompassed a variety of mediums, including furniture, textiles, ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, architecture, painting / graphic arts, and stained glass. Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau took its inspiration and pride from that which was handcrafted, and whose designs, across all art forms, were both inspired by nature and consisted of natural, organic shapes. While growing from those roots, Art Deco demonstrated a cultural shift toward industrialization and a love of all things mechanized, in its symmetrical, simplistic, but rigid designs. The color palettes used in Art Deco further enforce the industrial, yet glamorous themes with its heavy use of metallic gold, silver, and black.

Symbolic of not only the culture and era, Ms. Lipicka’s self-portrait, in particular, entitled: Autoportrait; Tamara in a Green Bugatti, (1929), demonstrates her independence, mobility, high social status, and of course, her talent. Her journey to the top of her field was at times tumultuous, others, an adventure beginning with a privileged upbringing in Warsaw, a first marriage to a wealthy lawyer, then later, another to a Baron, which earned her the title, “Baroness with a Brush.” Her work combined with war and the stock market crash, brought her from Warsaw to Paris, then to the United States and finally to Mexico. In each of these places, she mingled with the elite, and made a name for herself in each of these circles, spreading her fame wide. When, in the 1940’s, Art Deco fell from popularity, she attempted to re-invent herself but never attained the reputation she had pre-WWII. A few years before her death, however, Art Deco experienced a resurgence in popularity lending her work to be recognized once again. She passed away in 1980 in Mexico, where, at her request, her ashes were scattered by her daughter, Kizette, on the volcano, Mount Popocatépetl.

Bertha Parker Pallen Cody – First Native American Archaeologist


Bertha Parker Pallen Thurston Cody 

August 30, 1907 (New York) –  October 8, 1978 (Los Angeles)

     For a woman to be born in a tent at the site of an archeological dig would seem a premonition of a life of adventure. It some ways, perhaps it was, but why then, would, at her death, her gravemarker bear a name other than her own?

In many ways, Bertha Parker’s life seemed to be woven of two disparate threads whose only connection was that they both were of an unorthodox nature. From the start, her childhood was spent in the field working alongside her anthropologist father, Arthur Parker, discovering the evolution, migration, and demise of our human and animal predecessors. After the breakup of her family, at age seven, her life followed a starkly different path, to Hollywood, where she moved with her mother and maternal grandparents, all of whom were actors. Through her teenage years, she and her mother performed the Pocahontas act for the Ringling Brother’s Barnum and Bailey Circus. By the time she was eighteen, she had become a wife and mother. Together with her husband, Joseph Pallen, they had a daughter, Wilma Mae, whom they called “Billie.” Just two short years later, however, her path would take her and her daughter back to the archeological life. With her marriage to Pallen ended, she found work, first as a cook, then an expedition secretary, with archeologist (and uncle by marriage), Mark Raymond Harrington.
Though she had no formal education, her prior field experience, and natural intelligence led her to make profound discoveries at Scorpion Hill, a site she excavated, photographed and documented herself, and later, alongside Harrington, at Gypsum Cave in the Nevada Desert. Her work at the latter was especially significant as their finds at this site provided proof of the first human presence on the North American Continent during the Pleistocene era. There, she discovered a fossilized camel bone, human tools, and a Giant Ground Sloth skull. Her work and academic writing of their findings catapulted her to become considered an expert in her field. It was on the Gypsum Cave expedition that she met and married fellow archeologist, James Thurston. Following the conclusion of the expedition, however, in 1931, the two became so ill it claimed the life of James and rendered Bertha so sick moved back to be with her parents in Los Angeles.

Upon her recovery, Bertha found employment with the Southwest Museum, for whom she worked for the next forty years. Combining her native Abenaki and Seneca ancestry with her anthropological work, Bertha published academic articles in the museums Masterkey journal on topics ranging from the significance of Pueblo Kachina Dolls, Native American Baby Cradles, and many about the Yurok Tribe of Northern California.

By the 1940’s, her life led her back to Hollywood once more. There she met actor, Espera Oscar de Corti, a.k.a. “Iron Eyes Cody,” the man who would become her third husband. During the first decade of their marriage, she worked as a television programming consultant to assist with creating a positive and accurate portrayal of Native Americans in the media. Mid-Century, she and Cody were the hosts of a television program highlighting Native American culture and heritage. From T.V. to community, their efforts to support Native culture rippled out to include their work with the Los Angeles Indian Center, which provided resources and support to Native peoples relocating to the greater Los Angeles area.
Bertha wove the contrasting threads of her life together in a way that made significant impacts upon our understanding of human evolution and history, and which supported her family and community in important, meaningful ways.

She is considered the first female Native American archaeologist and an expert in her field as is evident by the work she has left behind.
Bertha Parker Pallen Thurston Cody passed away in 1978 at age 71. Her grave is marked simply, “Mrs. Iron Eyes Cody.”

Maya Lin – Architect


Maya Lin
1959 – Present

The Vietnam War had ended only seven years before Maya Lin, a student of architecture at Yale University, entered a public design contest for its Memorial. Maya’s design beat almost 1,500 other entries in a blind-judging. Her concept for the Memorial incorporated natural elements and was to be a place where Veterans and families of the fallen could grieve and heal. Though she won, not all saw the beauty of her design. Being called to testify before the U.S. Congress, Ms. Lin presented her vision with such clarity and passion that they upheld her victory.

In addition to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Ms. Lin has created structural art worldwide including: The Eleven Minute Line (Sweden), The Civil Rights Memorial (Montgomery, Alabama), and what she calls her last memorial, entitled: What is Missing – an interactive website dedicated to environmental awareness. For her dedication to the arts and the environment, Ms. Lin has been awarded honorary doctorates from Harvard and Yale Universities as well as from Williams, and Smith Colleges respectively. In 2009, President Barack Obama presented Maya Lin with the National Medal of Arts and in 2016, the nations highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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