By Linda Rosenkrantz
If you scan the annals of distinguished women in American history, culture and science, you’ll find that a surprising number of them had distinctive names as well, names that could provide unique-ish choices with interesting back-stories. Several of them have a funky, fusty period flavor that may or may not appeal. What do you think?
Abba Goold Woolson– a turn-of-the-last century teacher-author, remembered for her liberating efforts against ‘the physical discomfort and disease caused by corsets and other constricting forms of dress.’
Adelina Patti, christened Adela, was a renowned operatic soprano, the daughter of Italian opera singers, who could sing some of the most difficult arias by the age of four.
Albion Fellows Bacon (named for her father)— a housing reformer who pushed laws to regulate housing sanitation of tenements.
Alta Weiss was a double threat—a pitcher with a men’s semi-pro baseball team who went on to become a doctor.
Alzina Stevens–an Ohio labor leader, journalist and settlement worker who lobbied for child labor laws.
Asta Nielsen– a Danish silent film actress who was one of the most popular leading ladies of the 1910s and one of the first international movie stars. She named her only child Jesta.
Belva Lockwood— the first woman to plead a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and the second female to run for president.
Bessica Raiche—In addition to being a physician, dentist, musician and businesswoman, Bessica Medlar Raich was the first woman in the U.S. credited with flying solo in an airplane.
Bethenia Owens–Adair–among the first certified female doctors in the West, also a feminist and social reformer.
Cathay Williams was a freed slave who, determined to fight with the Union army in the Civil War, pretended to be a man, enlisted as William Cathay, becoming the first African- American female soldier.
Clarina Nichols—a nineteenth century newspaper editor and woman’s rights leader.
Clemence Haned Lozier—a nineteenth century physician instrumental in establishing an early medical school for women and an ardent suffragist.
Clementina Rind– a Colonial period printer and newspaper editor, taking over The Virginia Gazette upon the death of her husband in 1773, exhibiting great independence and literary skill.
Edmonia Lewis, a half African-American, half Chippewa sculptor whose dual heritage was reflected in her work; executed in the neoclassic style.
Effa Manley, the owner and manager of the Newark Eagles baseball team, was called the Queen of the Negro Leagues.
Erminnie Smith—daughter of Ermina—was an ethnologist and mineralogist, particularly interested in the “Six Nations” of the Iroquois nation.
Fidelia Bridges– a successful watercolor painter who had once served as governess to Mark Twain’s three little girls.
Florine Stettheimer was a between-the-two-World Wars painter whose work was shown at MOMA, and was with her two sisters at the center of a cultural salon that attracted such figures as Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keeffe and Sherwood Anderson.
Gerty Cori was a biochemist who became the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in science, and the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947.
Leontyne Price was the first African-American opera superstar; her 1961 debut in Verdi’s Il Trovatore at the Met received a 42-minute ovation.
Louisine Havemeyer—suffragist, philanthropist and art collector who was introduced to the then- avant garde Impressionism by Mary Cassatt.
Marilla Ricker was a lawyer/suffragist who espoused the causes of free thought, birth control, political equality, and, especially, prison reform.
Marita Odette Bonner was a Harlem Renaissance writer, whose most famous essay is “On Being Young—A Woman—and Colored.”
Marvel Crosson was a pioneer ‘aviatrix’; in 1929 she set a new altitude record for women.
Metta Fuller Victor was a popular and prolific nineteenth century author and editor of several magazines, in addition to bearing nine children (including a little Metta and a Vivia).
Myrtilla Miner was a pioneer in teacher education for black women.
Osa Johnson, with her husband Martin, researched and explored the cultures and wildlife of extreme habitats and became a well-known pop culture figure,
Oveta Culp Hobby was the first director of the WACs and the first woman to serve as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in a presidential cabinet.
Penina Moïse was a widely published Jewish poet, essayist and hymnist.
Romaine Brooks, born Beatrice Romaine, was an American painter who worked mostly in Paris and Capri.
Septima Poinsette Clark was an important Civil Rights figure, working closely with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sophonisba Preston—(nnn Nisba) a lawyer and suffragist who organized the Women’s Peace Party in 1915.
Sybilla Masters– an eighteenth century inventor whose creations included a device for grinding maize into corn meal—she was possibly the first female American inventor.
Tenley Albright — the first American woman to win the Women’s World Figure Skating Championship and an Olympic gold medal.
Varina Howell Davis was the wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, who wrote most of his speeches.
Vivia Thomas was a legendary Civil War figure who dressed as a boy and enlisted in the army, fighting with valor on the frontier.
Zelia Nuttall was an archaeologist and scholar of Mexican history.
Zélie de Lussan was a noted mezzo-soprano, debuting at the Met in 1894, giving three command performances for Queen Victoria.
Zilpha Drew Smith—an influential social worker who became the executive leader of the Boston Associated Charities in 1886, impacting such coordinated charitable efforts in other cities.
Zona Gale was a journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.
Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, folklorist and anthropologist who was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Any names here that appeal?