Meet 5 Pioneering Women

March is Women's History Month, because women make history, even when they don't make the history books. It's not always easy to find the fascinating females hidden among the archives of those who settled the United States. Whether they are builders, barrier breakers, victims, or criminals, here are five interesting women whose stories were left out of most textbooks.

1. Deborah Moody

Lady Deborah Moody was an early pioneer in the "new" land of America. Born in the 1580s in England, she was already a widow with two children by the time she sailed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639. There, she ran afoul of religious authorities. The well-read and educated Moody argued against baptizing infants, as they cannot make a freewill statement of faith. This belief landed her in court in 1642! The conflict with the Puritans caused Moody to move to New Amsterdam, taking a group of other Anabaptists with her. Moody founded a new community in 1643 called Gravesend, where she was the leading citizen, conducting town meetings and conferring with the Director-General of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant. Gravesend was one of the earliest planned communities in America, with streets laid out geometrically before any homes were built. The Gravesend community is now part of Brooklyn, New York, and the area settled by Moody and her followers includes Coney Island, which the community purchased from Native Americans in 1654.

2. Cynthia Ann Parker

Cynthia Ann Parker was born in 1825 in Illinois. Her family traveled by wagon train to settle Fort Parker in Texas. In 1836, soon after the community was established, Comanches raided the settlement and kidnapped five settlers, including ten-year-old Cynthia. Four of the settlers were eventually returned to Fort Parker, but Cynthia Ann Parker stayed with the tribe for 25 years. She had grown to love her Native American family and refused offers of ransom to return to her parents. Over the years, she had some contact with family members, but remained with her adopted tribe and husband, chief Peta Nocoma. They had three children. In 1860, a raid by the Texas Rangers recovered Parker and her infant daughter. Peta was presumed dead, and her two sons escaped. Parker tried many times to return to the Comanches, but was found and sent back to the Parker family each time. Word came that her son Pecos had died, and then her infant daughter Topsannah also died. Broken-hearted, Parker herself died in 1870 at the age of 43. But her legacy continued.

Parker's surviving son Quannah Parker became chief of the Quahadi Comanches and took control of the Texas plains for years, fighting back the U.S. Cavalry until 1874. Exiled to Oklahoma, he was revered as a tribal leader until his death in 1911.

3. Charlotte/Charlene Parkhurst

Charley Parkhurst was known as one of the greatest stagecoach drivers of the Old West. Charley was short but strong, and even after retiring from driving, could outwork men half her age as a lumberjack. But after she died, those who had known Charley for years were shocked to discover something they never knew -Charley was a woman! Charlotte (or possibly Charlene) Darkey Parkhurst was born in New Hampshire in 1812. Dressed as a boy, Charley worked in stables and learned the craft of a driver. She built a reputation as a skilled driver, then fled to Georgia, possibly over the threat of exposure. She moved west to California in 1851, where she again built a reputation as a skilled and talented driver. At least once her secret was discovered, but those who knew kept it confidential to preserve her dignity. After her death in 1879, doctors not only discovered Charley’s sex, but announced that she had at some time in her life given birth. Many parts of her story remain a mystery to this day.

4. Stagecoach Mary Fields

Mary Fields was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1832. Little is known of her early life, but she was close to her master's daughter Dolly, whom she grew up with. Dolly became a nun and settled in a convent in Toledo, Ohio. Fields followed her, and worked for the convent. Then Dolly, now known as Sister Amadeus, moved to Montana to teach Native American children. Fields eventually followed, and was hired to perform heavy labor at the Montana mission. Mary Fields was six feet tall, smoked cigars, drank with men, and didn't turn away from a fight. When another laborer complained that the "uppity colored woman" made more money than he did, Fields went to kill him. The ensuing gunfight left the man slightly injured, and Fields was fired. After opening a restaurant that failed, she got a job delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service in 1895 -she was only the second woman and the first black woman to ever deliver the nation's mail. Already in her sixties, Fields built a reputation for getting the mail through no matter what the obstacles or the weather, and gained the nickname Stagecoach Mary. Fields retired at the age of seventy and opened a laundry service. But she was still tough: a customer who gave her a bad time about his laundry found himself knocked flat on the ground by a 72-year old woman!

5. Pearl Hart

Pearl Taylor Hart was born in Ontario around 1871. She had a conventional upbringing, but fell for Frederick Hart, with whom she eloped as a teenager. Hart was an abusive drunk and a poor provider, and Pearl was disillusioned. Her husband took a job as a carnival barker with the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and Hart became inspired by sharpshooter Annie Oakley and activist Julia Ward Howe. Hart left her husband and traveled to Colorado. She and her husband reunited off and on, long enough to have three children, but Hart eventually left him for good and went to Arizona, where she hooked up with an outlaw named Joe Boot and began a life of crime. In 1899, they robbed a stagecoach of around $450 and fled. They were soon apprehended. Hart, who was dressed as a man for the caper, became famous as the "lady bandit," a role she was happy to play up for the press. Although she admitted guilt, she was acquitted out of sympathy. The angry judge then held her for firearms possession, for which she received a five-year sentence. Boot got 30 years for the robbery, although he escaped and was never seen again. In prison, Hart was a celebrity and found herself paroled after 18 months. For some time, she courted fame on stage and in a Wild West Show, but eventually disappeared. It is not known for certain how she spent the rest of her life.

Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.


As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.


Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.


A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.


Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.


The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.


The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 


All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.

A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
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Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.

Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.

American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.

Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.

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Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.


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