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Unsung History

Author: Kelly Therese Pollock

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A podcast about people and events in American history you may not know much about. Yet.

95 Episodes
In 19th Century New York, everyone knew who to go to to end an unwanted pregnancy: the French-trained, sophisticated Madame Restell, who lived in a posh mansion on 5th Avenue. In reality, Madame Restell was English immigrant Ann Trow Lohman, and she had never even been to France, but she managed to combine medical skill with her carefully crafted public persona to become tremendously wealthy, while providing a much-needed service. As the legal landscape of the United States grew ever more conservative, Madame Restell did her best to evade the authorities, and then Anthony Comstock knocked on her door. Joining me this week to help us understand more about Madame Restell is historian and writer Jennifer Wright, author of Madame Restell: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Old New York's Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Infamous Abortionist. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-episode music is part of Twelve Pieces for piano, op. 40, No. 9, Valse in F-sharp minor, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1878, performed by Kevin McLeod, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. The episode image is “The arrest of abortionist Ann Lohman (a.k.a. Madame Restell) by Anthony Comstock,” from the February 23, 1878, edition of the New York Illustrated Times; scanned from The Wickedest Woman in New York: Madame Restell, the Abortionist by Clifford Browder; available via Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain. Additional sources: “Madame Restell: The Abortionist of Fifth Avenue,” by Karen Abbott, Smithsonian Magazine, November 27, 2012. “Life Story: Ann Trow Lohman, a.k.a. Madame Restell (1812 - 1878),” Women and the American Story, New York Historical Society. “When 'The Wickedest Woman of New York' Lived on Fifth Avenue,” by Simon Scully, Mental Floss, October 2, 2020. “Madame Restell’s Other Profession,” By Christopher Gray, The New York Times, October 10, 2013. “‘Sex and the Constitution’: Anthony Comstock and the reign of the moralists,” by Geoffrey Stone, The Washington Post, March 23, 2017. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
In her 2015 book, Gloria Steinem described the National Women’s Conference of 1977 as “the most important event nobody knows about.” The four-day event in Houston, Texas, which brought together 2,000 delegates and another 15,000-20,000 observers was the culmination of a commission appointed first by President Ford and then by President Carter, and was and funded by Congress for $5 million to investigate how federal legislation could best help women. The excited delegates believed that the conference would change history, so what happened, and why do so few people now even remember that it happened. Joining me to help us learn more about the National Women’s Conference are Dr. Nancy Beck Young, the Moores Professor of History; and Dr. Elizabeth Rodwell, Assistant Professor of Digital Media, who are both on the leadership team for The Sharing Stories from 1977 project through the Center for Public History at the University of Houston. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-episode music is “Retro Disco Old School” by Musictown from Pixabay. The episode image is from the final mile of the Torch Relay on its arrival to Houston on November 18, 1977. From left to right: Bella Abzug, Sylvia Ortiz, Peggy Kokernot, Michele Cearcy, Betty Friedan, Billie Jean King. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. Additional sources: Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women's Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics, by Marjorie J. Spruill, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017. “Women Unite! Lessons from 1977 for 2017,” by Marjorie Spruill, Process :A Blog for American History, from the Organization of American Historians, The Journal of American History, and The American Historian, January 20, 2017. “The 1977 Conference on Women’s Rights That Split America in Two,” by Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian Magazine, February 15, 2017. “Sisters of ‘77 [video],” Directed by Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell, March 1, 2005. “Spotlight: National Women’s Conference of 1977,” by Chucik, National Archives, November 16, 2017. “Women on the Move: Texas and the Fight for Women’s Rights,” Texas Archive of the Moving Image.  “National Women's Conference, 1977,” by Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association. “The 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston Was Supposed to Change the World. What Went Wrong?” by Dianna Wray, Houstonia Magazine, January 20, 2018. “Road Warrior: After fifty years, Gloria Steinem is still at the forefront of the feminist cause,” by Jane Kramer, The New Yorker, October 12, 2015. “What’s left undone 45 years after the National Women’s Conference,” by Errin Haines, The 19th, March 25, 2022. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Lydia Maria Child

Lydia Maria Child


By 1833, Lydia Maria Child was a popular author, having published both fiction and nonfiction, including the wildly successful advice book The Frugal Housewife: Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of Economy. And she had been editing a beloved monthly periodical for children called Juvenile Miscellany for seven years. But her popularity crumbled precipitously when she published An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans, arguing for the immediate emancipation of enslaved people. Child never stopped writing or fighting for the causes she believed in, but she never again reached the literary heights to which she’d seemed poised to ascend. Joining me to help us learn more about Lydia Maria Child is Dr. Lydia Moland, Professor of Philosophy at Colby College and author of Lydia Maria Child: A Radical American Life. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The poem mid-episode, read by Teddy, is “The New-England Boy's Song about Thanksgiving Day,” written by Lydia Maria Child and originally published in 1844 in Flowers for Children, Volume 2. The image is of Lydia Maria Child, from “Representative Women,” by L. Schamer, produced by Louis Prang Lithography Company, in 1870; the image is available courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution and is in the public domain. Additional sources: “Lydia Maria Child,” Poetry Foundation. “Lydia Maria Child,” David Ruggles Center for History and Education. “October 20, 1880: Lydia Maria Child Dies,” Mass Moments. “Lydia Maria Child 1802-1880,” From a talk titled, “Here are some of her accomplishments” by Jane Sciacca, Wayland Historical Society, October 2018. “Lydia Maria Child,” National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum. “William Lloyd Garrison,” National Park Service. “Lydia Maria Child Taught Americans to Make Do With Less,“ by Lydia Moland, Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2022. “Activists have always been frustrated at allies’ insistence on gradual change,” by Lydia Moland, Washington Post, March 28, 2022. “Books by Child, Lydia Maria,” Project Gutenberg “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself,” by Harriet A. Jacobs; edited by Lydia Maria Child. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The Eastland Disaster

The Eastland Disaster


On the morning of July 24, 1915, employees of the Western Electric Company and their families excitedly boarded the SS Eastland near the Clark Street Bridge in Chicago, eager to set off for a day of fun in Michigan City, Indiana, during their annual company picnic. Tragically, the ship capsized just 19 feet from the wharf in the Chicago River, killing 844 people in one of the worst maritime disasters in United States history. Joining me on this episode to help us understand more about the tragic Eastland disaster are Ted and Barb Wachholz, who co-founded the Eastland Disaster Historical Society with Barb’s sister, Susan Decker, and their mom, Jean Decker. Barb and Susan’s grandmother, Borghild Amelia Aanstad, who went by Bobbie, was 13 years old, when she, along with her sister Solveig, Mother Mariane, and Uncle Olaf, survived the capsizing of the Eastland. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-episode audio is “Somewhere a Voice is Calling,” written by Arthur Tate in 1911. This recording is by the Revillon Trio in 1915 and is in the Public Domain. It is available via the Internet Archive. The image is a photograph taken on July 24, 1915 during the rescue operations; it is freely available via the Eastland Disaster Historical Society. Sources: Eastland Disaster Historical Society The Eastland Disaster by Ted Wachholz, Arcadia Publishing (SC), August 17, 2005. “The Forgotten Disaster of the SS Eastland [video],” Ask a Mortician, September 23, 2022. “The Eastland Disaster Killed More Passengers Than the Titanic and the Lusitania. Why Has It Been Forgotten?” by Susan Q. Stranahan, October 27, 2014. “The Eastland Disaster: New look at 100-year-old tragedy [video],” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 2015. “The Eastland Disaster,” WTTW Chicago. “1915 – Eastland Disaster,” Chicagology Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
If you’ve ever lived in Chicago, you’ve probably heard at some point that Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. While that’s an exaggeration it’s certainly the case that the Chicagoland region has a large population of people of Polish descent and that Chicago is important historically to American Polonia. From the earliest Polish immigrants to Chicago in the 1830s through today, Poles have helped shape the culture, politics, religion, and food of Chicago. This week we dive into that history. Joining me to help us understand more about Polish Chicago is Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga, professor emeritus of history in the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences at Columbia College Chicago and author of several books on Polish immigrants and Chicago, including American Warsaw: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Polish Chicago in 2019. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-roll audio is “Mazurka, Op. 24, No. 4, in B Flat Minor,” by Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, performed by Polish pianist and Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski in in the early 1920s and captured on an Aeolian Company "DUO-ART" reproducing piano; the performance is in the public domain and is available via the Internet Archive. The episode image is the Tadeusz Kościuszko Monument, an outdoor sculpture by artist Kazimierz Chodziński, installed in the median of East Solidarity Drive, near Chicago's Shedd Aquarium; the photograph was taken by Matthew Weflen on Sunday, February 19, 2023, and is used with permission. Additional Sources: “Poles,”by Dominic Pacyga, Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. “Can Chicago Brag about the Size of its Polish Population?” by Jesse Dukes, WBEZ Chicago, October 26, 2015. “Where Have All the Polish Pols Gone?” by Edward McClelland, Chicago Magazine, January 6, 2020. “How Chicago Became a Distinctly Polish American City,” by Marek Kępa, Culture.PL, April 27, 2020. “Explore Polish culture in Chicago’s neighborhoods,” Choose Chicago. “Chicago’s Milwaukee Av. to be renamed Polish Heritage Corridor in honour of city’s Poles,” by Stuart Dowell, The First News, June 20, 2022. “Chicago, The Polish City,” Interview of Dominic Pacyga by Łukasz Kożuchowski, Polish History. “Chicago’s Polish Constitution Day Parade is back. This year, it has a new theme,” by Adriana Cardona-Maguidad, WBEZ Chicago, May 3, 2022. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
When businessman John H. Johnson died in 2005, Ebony Magazine, the monthly photo-editorial magazine that he launched in 1945, reached an estimated 10 million readers. Under the direction of executive editor Lerone Bennet Jr. for several decades, Ebony helped shape Black culture and perceptions of Black history. Johnson Publishing Company helped shape Chicago history, too, when they opened their Loop location in 1972, at 820 S. Michigan Ave. The now-iconic 11-story, 110,000 square-foot building was the first major downtown building to be designed by an African American architect, John W. Moutoussamy, and the first skyscraper owned by an African American in the Loop.  Joining me this week to help us understand more about Johnson Publishing is Dr. E. James West, a Lecturer at University College London, co-director of the Black Press Research Collective, and author of Ebony Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr.: Popular Black History in Postwar America, A House for the Struggle: The Black Press and the Built Environment in Chicago, and Our Kind of Historian: The Work and Activism of Lerone Bennett Jr. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-roll audio is from the Sol Taishoff Award ceremony on February 25, 1986, where Don Hewitt, John Johnson and John Quinn were recognized for Excellence in Journalism. The video was aired on C-SPAN and is in the public domain. The episode image is “Ebony magazine, Volume LX, Number 12 honoring the life of John H. Johnson, the founder of Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony magazine,” from the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Bunch Family. Additional Sources: “Succeeding Against the Odds: The Autobiography of a Great American Businessman,” by John H. Johnson and Lerone Bennett, Jr., Johnson Publishing Company, October 1, 1992. “John H. Johnson, 87, Founder of Ebony, Dies,” by Douglas Martin, The New York Times, August 9, 2005. “The Radical Blackness of Ebony Magazine,” by Brent Staples, The New York Times, August 11, 2019. “Lerone Bennett Jr., Historian of Black America, Dies at 89,” by Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, February 16, 2018. “75 Years of Ebony Magazine,” The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian. “Under new ownership, 'Ebony' magazine bets on boosting Black business,” by Andrew Craig, NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, October 31, 2021. “New apartments pay homage to Ebony/Jet building's history,” by Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, September 9, 2019. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The first Cook County Jail was a wooden stockade, built in 1833 in Chicago, which was then a town of around 250 people. Today, the Cook County Department of Corrections, which takes up 8 city blocks on the Southwest Side of Chicago, is one of the largest single-site jails in the country and incarcerates nearly 100,000 people a year. The history of the jail’s expansion is a story of urban politics and patronage, battles over criminal justice reform, and the racist underpinnings of mass incarceration.  Joining me to help us learn more about the Cook County Jail is Dr. Melanie Newport, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Connecticut and author of This Is My Jail: Local Politics and the Rise of Mass Incarceration. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-roll audio is “Slow E-Guitar Blues Solo” by JuliusH from Pixabay. The image of the Cook County Department of Corrections is by Stephen Hogan on Flickr and was taken on October 24, 2017; it is used under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0). Additional Sources: “Learning about American History and Politics through American Jails,” by Elaina Hancock, UConn Today, November 15, 2022. “Jails and Prisons,” by Jess Maghan, Encyclopedia of Chicago. “Cook County Jail’s History,” Cook County Sheriff’s Office. “A rare glimpse into a transformative time at Cook County Jail,” by Renata Cherlise, Chicago Reader, December 9, 2016. “Blues in the Big House [video]” “When a Psychologist Was in Charge of Jail,” by Melanie Newport, The Marshall Project, May 21, 2015. “The COVID-19 Struggle In Chicago's Cook County Jail,” Cheryl Corley, NPR, April 13, 2020. “Cook County to Proceed With End of Cash Bail in Wake of SAFE-T Act Ruling,” NBC5 Chicago, December 29, 2022. Organizations to support: Chicago Community Jail Support Chicago Community Bond Fund Uptown People's Law Center Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The Green Book

The Green Book


In 1936, Victor Hugo Green published the first edition of what he called The Negro Motorist Green Book, a 16-page listing of businesses in the New York metropolitan area that would welcome African American customers. By its final printing in 1966, the Green Book had gone international, with a 100-page book that included not just friendly businesses throughout the United States but also hotels and resorts that would be safe for African American travelers in Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and Africa, along with a list of currency exchange rates.  Joining me this week to help us learn more about why African American travelers needed the Green Book and how Victor Green and his family created such an important and long-lasting publication is award-winning television and radio broadcaster and financial educator Alvin Hall, author of the new book, Driving the Green Book: A Road Trip Through the Living History of Black Resistance. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The musical interlude and music under the outro is: "Whiskey on the Mississippi," by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons by Attribution 4.0 License. The image is "The Travelers' Green Book: 1961," Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. Additional Sources: “Navigating The Green Book,” Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library. “How the Green Book Helped African-American Tourists Navigate a Segregated Nation,” by Jacinda Townsend, Smithsonian Magazine, April 2016. “The Green Book: The Black Travelers’ Guide to Jim Crow America,” by Evan Andews,, March 13, 2019. “Traveling While Black: The Green Book’s Black History,” by Brent Staples, The New York Times, January 25, 2019. “A look inside the Green Book, which guided Black travelers through a segregated and hostile America,” by George Petras and Janet Loehrke, USA Today, February 19, 2021. “The Movie Green Book Is Named for a Real Guide to Travel in a Segregated World. Its Real History Offers a Key Lesson for Today,” by Arica L. Coleman, Time Magazine, November 17, 2018. “The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration,” by Isabel Wilkerson, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2016. “Sundown Towns,” by Ross Coen, BlackPast, August 23, 2020. “Sundown Towns,” Tougaloo College. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
The second half of the nineteenth century was a momentous time in Italian history, marked by the unification of the peninsula and the formation of the Kingdom of Italy. Three American women writers had a front-seat view of this history while they lived in Italy: Caroline Crane Marsh, the wife of the United States Minister; journalist Anne Hampton Brewster; and Emily Bliss Gould, founder of a vocational school for Italian children. Joining me to help us learn more about these American women in Italy in the late 19th Century is Dr. Etta Madden, the Clif & Gail Smart Professor of English at Missouri State University and author of several books, including Engaging Italy: American Women's Utopian Visions and Transnational Networks. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Photo credits: Engraving of Emily Bliss Gould, by A.H. Ritchie, based on a portrait by Lorenzo Suszipj, in A Life Worth Living, by Leonard Woolsey Bacon, 1879, Public Domain; Anne Hampton Brewster, Albumen photograph, ca. 1874, McAllister Collection, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Caroline Crane Marsh, ca 1866, Fratelli Alinari, Florence, Special Collections Library, University of Vermont.  Additional Sources: “How Italy became a country, in one animated map,” by Zack Beauchamp, Vox, December 1, 2014. “Issues Relevant to U.S. Foreign Diplomacy: Unification of Italian States,” Office of the Historian, US Department of State. “The Italian Risorgimento: A timeline,” The Florentine, March 10, 2011. “About George Perkins Marsh,” The Marsh Collection, Smithsonian. “Ambasciatrice, Activist, Auntie, Author: Caroline Crane Marsh,” by Etta Madden, New York Public Library, December 19, 2018. “Traveling with Caroline Crane Marsh,” University of Vermont Special Collections, June 11, 2020. “Anne Hampton Brewster,” Archival Gossip Collection. “Anne Hampton Brewster: Nineteenth-Century News from Rome,” by Etta Madden, November 21, 2018. “Anne Hampton Brewster papers finding aid,” Library Company of Philadelphia. “Emily Bliss Gould: An American in Italy–A Guest Post,” by Etta Madden, History in the Margins, September 30, 2022. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and after months of increasing tension on campus, the students at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama occupied a building on campus where the Trustees were meeting, demanding a number of reforms, including a role for students in college governance, the end of mandatory ROTC participation, athletic scholarships, African American studies curriculum, and a higher quality of instruction in engineering courses.  Joining me to tell the story of the Tuskegee student uprising is Dr. Brian Jones, Director of New York Public Library’s Center for Educators and Schools and author of The Tuskegee Student Uprising: A History. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Photo credit:  The photo used for this episode comes from: Additional Sources: “The Overlooked History of a Student Uprising That Helped Institutionalize Black Studies in the U.S.,” by Olivia B. Waxman, Time, October 4, 2022. “History of Tuskegee University,” Tuskegee University. “Tuskegee Institute's Founding,” National Park Service. “Tuskegee Institute--Training Leaders,” African American Odyssey, Library of Congress “Tuskegee University (1881-),” by Allison O’Connor, Blackpast, October 27, 2009. “Booker T. Washington,”, October 29, 2009. “The Tuskegee Student Uprising & Black education in America,” The Black Table, S1 E38. “Tuskegee Halts All its Classes; Tells Students to Go Home – Acts After Protests,” The New York Times, April 9, 1968. “The Moral Force of the Black University,” by Brian Jones, The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 3, 2022. “Jan. 3, 1966: Sammy Younge Jr. Murdered,” Zinn Education Project. “Nov. 14, 1960: Gomillion v. Lightfoot,” Zinn Education Project. Sammy L. Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student To Die In The Black Liberation Movement Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm


Throughout her life, Shirley Chisholm fought for coalitional change. She was the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968, the first Black woman to run for President of the United States in 1972, co-founder of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus, both in 1971, and co-founder of the National Congress of Black Women in 1984. Toward the end of her life, Chisholm told an interviewer: “I want history to remember me … as a Black woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be herself. I want to be remembered as a catalyst for change in America.”  Joining me in this episode is Dr. Anastasia Curwood, Professor of History and Director of the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies at the University of Kentucky, and author of Shirley Chisholm: Champion of Black Feminist Power Politics.  Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is Shirley Chisholm speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida, on July 12, 1972. The photographer was Warren K. Leffler, and the photograph is in the public domain and available via the Library of Congress.  The audio clip of Shirley Chisholm speaking is from her presidential campaign announcement on January 25, 1972, in Brooklyn; the audio is courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archive, via C-SPAN. The audio clip of Rep. Barbara Lee is from Two Broads Talking Politics, Episode 433: Barbara Lee, which originally aired on October 9, 2020; the episode was recorded, edited, and produced by Kelly Therese Pollock and is used with express permission. Additional Sources: “‘Unbought and Unbossed’: When a Black Woman Ran for the White House,” by Jackson Landers, Smithsonian Magazine, April 25, 2016. “‘Unbought and Unbossed’: How Shirley Chisholm Helped Paved the Path for Kamala Harris Nearly Five Decades Ago,” by Stuart Emmrich, Vogue, August 20, 2020. “Politicians reflect on Shirley Chisholm's legacy 50 years after her historic presidential run,” by Anna Lucente Sterling, NY1, February 17, 2022. “CHISHOLM, Shirley Anita,” “What You May Not Know About TC Alum Shirley Chisholm,” Teacher’s College, Columbia University, Published Wednesday, November 30, 2022. “Shirley Chisholm, 'Unbossed' Pioneer in Congress, Is Dead at 80,” by James Barron, The New York Times, January 3, 2005. “Congressional Black Caucus swears in its largest group in history,” by Cheyanne M. Daniels, The Hill, January 3, 2023. “Democratic women lawmakers who broke through in 2018 now step into leadership roles,” by Grace Panetta and Mel Leonor Barclay, The 19th, January 3, 2023. “Rep. Lauren Underwood elected to House Democratic leadership position,” by Lynn Sweet, Chicago SunTimes, December 1, 2022. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
In the late 1960s, Air Force surgeon Dr. Kenneth Cooper was evaluating military fitness plans when he realized that aerobic activities, what we now call cardio, like running and cycling, was the key to overall physical health. His 1968 book Aerobics launched the aerobics revolution that followed, as he inspired women like Jacki Sorensen and Judi Sheppard Missett to combine dance with exercise, creating Dance Aerobics and Jazzercise in the process.   I’m joined on this episode by Dr. Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Associate Professor History at The New School and author of Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America's Exercise Obsession. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is: “Jacki Sorensen at an Aerobic Dancing, Inc., event in New York,” photographed by an employee of Aerobic Dancing, Inc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Additional Sources: “The Fitness Craze That Changed the Way Women Exercise,” by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, The Atlantic, June 16, 2019. “History of Aerobic Exercise.” “Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH,” CooperAerobics. “The 75-Year-Old Behind Jazzercise Keeps Dancing on Her Own,” by Samantha Leach, Glamour, June 21, 2019. “Jane Fonda’s 1982 Workout Routine Is Still the Best Exercise Class Out There,” by Patricia Garcia, Vogue, July 7, 2018. “Jane Fonda’s first workout video released,” “History: IDEA Health & Fitness Association. “Interview with Richard Simmons,” by Eric Spitznagel, Men’s Health, April 25, 2012. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Stede Bonnet lived a life of luxury in Barbados, inheriting from his father an over 400-acre sugarcane plantation, along with 94 slaves. But in late 1716, when he was 29 years old, Bonnet decided to leave behind his plantation, his wife, and his three surviving children, all under the age of 5, to become a pirate, despite having no experience even captaining a ship. As Captain Charles Johnson put it in A General History of the Pyrates: “He had the least Temptation of any Man to follow such a Course of Life, from the Condition of his Circumstances,” blaming it on a “Disorder in his Mind.” So why did Bonnet leave behind his privileged life, and would he have made the choice again if he knew how it would turn out? Joining me in this episode to help us understand more about Stede Bonnet and his possible motivations is freelance historian Jeremy R. Moss, author of The Life and Tryals of the Gentleman Pirate, Major Stede Bonnet. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-episode audio is “Oh, Better Far To Live And Die,” from The Pirates Of Penzance, written by Gilbert & Sullivan and performed by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1959, available via the Internet Archive. The episode image is: “Print engraving of Stede Bonnet in Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates,” Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.  The HBO Show loosely based on the life of Stede Bonnet that we reference in the episode is Our Flag Means Death, created by David Jenkins and starring Rhys Darby as Stede Bonnet and Taika Wititi as Blackbeard. Additional Sources: “The Gentleman Pirate: How Stede Bonnet went from wealthy landowner to villain on the sea,” by Amy Crawford, Smithsonian Magazine, July 31, 2007. “The Life Of Stede Bonnet, The Gentleman Who Became A Pirate On A Whim,” by Genevieve Carlton, All That’s Interesting, August 9, 2022. “A Pirate’s Life Was His, Stede Bonnet’s,” North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, September 27, 2016. “Top-Earning Pirates,” Forbes, September 19, 2008. “Stede Bonnet and the Golden Age of Piracy: Part One,” by Danielle Herring, Library of Congress, December 8, 2022. “Stede Bonnet, Gentleman Pirate: how a mid-life crisis created the 'worst pirate of all time',” by Jeremy R. Moss, History Extra, March 3, 2022. “A General History of the Pyrates: from their first rise and settlement in the island of Providence, to the present time,” by Captain Charles Johnson, 1724. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
In 1775, a smallpox outbreak struck the Continental Northern Army. With many of the soldiers too sick to fight, their attempted capture of Quebec on December 31, 1775, was a devastating failure, the first major defeat of the Revolutionary War for the Americans, and cost General Richard Montgomery his life. Eventually, George Washington, the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, realized that the only way to avoid repeated outbreaks was to order mass inoculation of the amy, a controversial and risky decision that proved successful.  Joining me to help us learn more about smallpox inoculation during the American Revolution is Dr. Andrew M. Wehrman, Associate professor of history at Central Michigan University, and author of The Contagion of Liberty: The Politics of Smallpox in the American Revolution. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is: “The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775,” a painting by John Trumbull from 1786; photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery; public domain. Additional Sources: “How an Enslaved African Man in Boston Helped Save Generations from Smallpox,” by Erin Blakemore,, February 1, 2019. “The origins of inoculation,” by Arthur Boylston, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (2012), 105(7), 309–313.  “On This Day in 1721, Dr. Zabdiel Boylston Inoculates his Son Against Smallpox,”, June 26, 2017. “Smallpox, Inoculation, and the Revolutionary War,” Boston National Historical Park, National Park Service. “Letter from John Adams to Abigail Smith, 13 April 1764 [electronic edition],” Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.  “How a public health crisis nearly derailed the American Revolution,” by Andrew Lawler, National Geographic, April 16, 2020. “Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination.” by Stefan Riedel, Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center) 2005, 18(1), 21–25.  “History of the Smallpox Vaccine,” The World Health Organization. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
On August 27, 1893, a massive hurricane struck the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, battering the Sea Islands and Lowcountry through the next morning. Around 2,000 people in the thriving African American community perished that night, and many more died in the coming days and weeks as the impacts of the storm continued to be felt. The Red Cross, led by Clara Barton, organized relief efforts in conjunction with the local communities but with little money, as  both the state legislature and the US Congress declined appeals to help. Joining me to help us understand more about this 1893 hurricane and how it affected the course of South Carolina politics is Dr. Caroline Grego, Assistant Professor of History at Queens University of Charlotte, and author of Hurricane Jim Crow: How the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893 Shaped the Lowcountry South. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is: “Black women prepare potatoes for planting, February 1894,” from Clara Barton, The Red Cross, 199; the image is in the public domain. Additional Sources: “Remembering the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893: Mermaids, culpability, and the postbellum Lowcountry,” by Caroline Grego, Erstwhile: A History Blog, September 21, 2016. “1893 Sea Islands Hurricane,” by Michele Nichole Johnson, New Georgia Encyclopedia. “The Sea Island Hurricane of 1893, 4th deadliest in U.S. history,” Eat Stay Play Beaufort. “The Great Sea Island Storm of 1893,” By Fran Heyward Bollin, Welcome to Beaufort. “The Sea Island Hurricane of 1893,” by Betty Joyce Nash, Economic History, Winter 2006. "Black Autonomy, Red Cross Recovery, and White Backlash after the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893," by Caroline Grego, Journal of Southern History, vol. 85 no. 4, 2019, p. 803-840.  “Sea Islands Hurricane,” Scribner’s Magazine, February 1894. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
After the Civil War, the simultaneous shift in the labor economy of the Southern United States and the second industrial revolution led to a growing interest in labor organizing. Newly formed labor organizations led a combined 23,000 strikes between 1881 and 1900. Employers noticed, and fought back, sometimes literally, employing Pinkerton agents to break strikes, rounding up and imprisoning or deporting union employees, and using various forms of intimidation against workers.  Joining me to help us learn much more about the story of employers and elites resisting labor rights is Dr. Chad. Pearson, a lecturer at the University of North Texas and author of Capital’s Terrorists: Klansmen, Lawmen, and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-episode audio is “Labor Day” by Dick Wright & The Wright Trio, in the Public domain and available via the Internet Archive. The episode image is: “The labor troubles at Homestead, Pa. - Attack of the strikers and their sympathizers on the surrendered Pinkerton men,” drawn by Miss G.A. Davis, from a sketch by C. Upham. Pennsylvania Homestead, 1892, available via the Library of Congress with no known restrictions on publication. Additional Sources: “Labor Movement,” “The Second Industrial Revolution, 1870-1914,” by Ryan Engelman, U.S. History Scene “Founding of the National Labor Union and the 1st National Call for a 8-Hour Work Day,” Library of Congress. “The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor (1869-1949),” by Michael Barga, Social Welfare History Project. “The Haymarket Affair,” Illinois Labor History Society. “Our Labor History Timeline,” AFL-CIO. “The Battle of Homestead Strike – July, 1892,” The Battle of Homestead Foundation. “Coeur d'Alene Mining Insurrection: Topics in Chronicling America,” Library of Congress. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
As many as two million Irish people relocated to North America during the Great Hunger in the mid-19th Century. Even after the famine had ended, Irish families continued to send their teenaged and 20-something children to the United States to earn money to mail back to Ireland. In many immigrant groups, it was single men who immigrated to the US in search of work, but single Irish women, especially young women, came to the US in huge numbers. Between 1851 and 1910 the ratio of men to women arriving in New York from Ireland was roughly equal. Irish women often took jobs in domestic service, drawn by the provided housing, food, and clothing, which allowed them to send the bulk of their earnings back home to Ireland.   Joining me to discuss Irish immigrant women in the late 19th Century is Irish poet Vona Groarke, author of Hereafter: The Telling Life of Ellen O'Hara. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The transitional audio is “My Irish maid,” composed by Max Hoffmann and performed by Billy Murray; Inclusion of the recording in the National Jukebox, courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment. The episode image is: “New York City, Irish depositors of the Emigrant Savings Bank withdrawing money to send to their suffering relatives in the old country,” Illustration  in: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 50, no. 1275 (March 13, 1880), p. 29; courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division; no known restrictions on publication. Additional Sources: “Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History: Irish,” Library of Congress. “The Great Hunger: What was the Irish potato famine? How was Queen Victoria involved, how many people died and when did it happen?” by Neal Baker, The Sun, August 25, 2017. “The Potato Famine and Irish Immigration to America,” Constitutional Rights Foundation, Winter 2020 (Volume 26, No. 2).   “Immigrant Irishwomen and maternity services in New York and Boston, 1860–1911,” by Ciara Breathnach, Med Hist. 2022 Jan;66(1):3–23. “‘Bridgets’: Irish Domestic Servants in New York,” by Rikki Schlott-Gibeaux, New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, September 25, 2020. “The Irish Girl and the American Letter: Irish immigrants in 19th Century America,” by Martin Ford, The Irish Story, November 17, 2018. “Who’s Your Granny: The Story of Irish Bridget,” by Lori Lander Murphy, Irish Philadelphia, June 26, 2020. “The Irish-American population is seven times larger than Ireland,” by Sarah Kliff, The Washington Post, March 17, 2013. “Irish Free State declared,” Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Americans in the 1950s, yearning to return to normalcy after the Great Depression and World War II, got married, had lots of kids, and used their newly middle-class status to buy cookie-cutter houses in the suburbs. But not everyone conformed to the white middle class American Dream. Black Americans were largely excluded from suburban housing and the benefits of the GI Bill; girls who became pregnant out of wedlock were hidden from sight; children with developmental disabilities were sent to institutions; and gay men hid their homosexual attractions for fear of ostracization, harassment, and even legal consequences. The secrets they kept took a toll on the families who kept them. Joining me to discuss the secrets of the 1950s is Dr. Margaret K. Nelson, Hepburn Professor Emerita of Sociology at Middlebury College and author of Keeping Family Secrets: Shame and Silence in Memoirs from the 1950s. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The transition audio is “The Great American Dream,” by Vaughn Monroe and His Orchestra, 1950, available in the Public Domain via Archive. Org. The episode image is “1950s family Gloucester Massachusetts USA 5336436883,” via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0. Additional Sources: “The Lingering Legacy of America’s First Cookie-Cutter Suburb,” by Winnie Lee, Atlas Obscura, July 10, 2020. “The White Negro (Superficial Reflections on the Hipster),” by Norman Mailer, Dissent Magazine, Summer 1957. “1950s: Pop Culture Explodes In A Decade Of Conformity,” “These Rebels Fought Conformity in 1950s America—and Are Still Making a Difference Today,” by James R. Gaines, Time Magazine, February 3, 2022. “How the GI Bill's Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans,” by Erin Blakemore,, June 21, 2019. “An analysis of out-of-wedlock births in the United States,” by George A. Akerlof and Janet L. Yellen, Brookings, August 1, 1996. “The curious survival of the US Communist Party,” by Aidan Lewis, BBC News, Mary 1, 2014. “The Baby in the Suitcase: In 1950s America, unwed pregnancy was a sociological crime,” by Dale M. Brumfield, Lessons from History, December 6, 2019. “1950s - Explore a Decade in LGBTQ History,” Victory Institute. “The Rise of the Suburbs,” US History II (American Yawp) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Gordon Merrick

Gordon Merrick


In 1970, writer Gordon Merrick published The Lord Won’t Mind, advertised as “the first homosexual novel with a happy ending,” his fifth novel but first to focus on a gay romance story. The novel was a hit and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 16 weeks. Critics dismissed the work as fantastical, but Merrick, who had been a Broadway actor, newspaper reporter, and American spy before turning novelist, was writing what he knew. Despite his commercial success and enduring fan base, Merrick’s contributions have been ignored and forgotten. Joining me to help us understand Gordon Merrick and his writing is Dr. Joseph Ortiz, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of the 2022 book, Gordon Merrick and the Great Gay American Novel. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is the original cover from the 1970 publication of The Lord Won’t Mind. Additional Sources: “Gordon Merrick, 71, Reporter and Novelist,” The New York Times, April 23, 1988. “Gordon Merrick (1916 - 1988),” The Legacy Project. “The Curious Case of Gordon Merrick,” by Andrew Holleran, The Gay & Lesbian Review. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Elsie Robinson

Elsie Robinson


As a girl born in 1883 to a family who couldn’t afford to send her to college, Elsie Robinson had limited options. To escape the drudgery of small-town life and then a stifling marriage, Elsie wrote. And wrote. And wrote. When her asthmatic son was home sick from school, she wrote and illustrated stories to entertain him. When she needed to make money to support herself and her son after her divorce, she wrote again. Eventually, her prolific writing caught the attention of the Hearst media empire, and Elsie became the most-read woman writer in America and the highest-paid woman writer in the Hearst organization. But today, few people remember Elsie Robinson or her writing. Joining me to help us learn more about Elsie Robinson is writer Allison Gilbert, co-author of Listen, World!: How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America's Most-Read Woman. Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is “Elsie Robinson, writer and columnist,” from the San Francisco Examiner, available via the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, and in the Public Domain. Additional Sources: Elsie Robinson “Elsie Robinson (1883-1956),” by Allison Gilbert, National Women’s HIstory Museum. “ELSIE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, DIES; Author of Syndicated 'Listen World' for King Features Succumbs at Age of 73,” The New York Times, September 9, 1956. “Listen, Benicia: Famed syndicated columnist and city native Elsie Robinson will be focus of Capitol event,” by Nick Sestanovich, Benicia Herald, September 7, 2017. “Pain,” by Elsie Robinson, Poetry Nook. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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