March is Woman’s History Month, a great time to familiarize yourself with some of the women who helped build and shape life in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library showcases many of these women including:
Charlotta Bass, born Charlotta Spears in 1880, moved to Los Angeles in 1910 and found work selling subscriptions to The Eagle, an African American newspaper founded in 1879 (originally titled The Owl) by John J. Neimore, a former slave. When Neimore fell ill in 1912, she took over operation of the paper, becoming the first African American woman to run a newspaper in the United States. Charlotta changed the paper’s name to California Eagle and focused on issues important to the African American community and other minorities that were often ignored by other publications. California Eagle covered such topics as discriminatory housing policies, segregated schools, and unfair treatment of minorities in the court system. She is pictured here with staff of California Eagle.
Charlotta Bass with staff of California Eagle (Security Pacific National Bank Collection, no date given for photo).
Bass oversaw publication of California Eagle with her husband, Joseph Bass, until his death in 1934, and then continued to run it on her own until her retirement from the newspaper business in 1951. She then dedicated herself to political activism, becoming a leader in the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association). She ran for Congress and was nominated as running mate for presidential candidate Vincent Hallinan of the Progressive Party, becoming the first African-American woman to run for Vice President of the United States. Here she is seen at a rally held during her congressional run.
Charlotta Bass speaks at a rally during her Congressional candidacy (Security Pacific National Bank Collection, no date given for photo).
Another woman who contributed to getting the news of the day to Los Angeles residents was Agness “Aggie” Underwood, who started working as a reporter for the Los Angeles daily newspaper Herald-Express in 1935 and became its city editor in 1947. She maintained that position until her retirement in 1968, increasing the paper’s circulation and seeing it through its merger with the Examiner in 1962 when it became the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. During her time as a reporter, Underwood interviewed Amelia Earhart, reported on movie star deaths, and wrote a series of articles focusing on the lives of women incarcerated in prison. In 1947, she was covering the [now infamous] Black Dahlia murder case when she was promoted to city editor. As an editor, she was known for her tough but fair attitude, often presenting the human side of criminals, but also keeping a sawed-off baseball bat and pistol at her desk, as shown below:
Aggie Underwood at work as city editor of the Herald-Express, (Herald-Examiner Collection, 1949).
In the photo below, Aggie is seen during an exclusive interview with Louise Peete, a murderer with whom Underwood had conducted several interviews previously, always referring to her as Mrs. Peete. Peete would eventually die in the gas chamber.
Aggie Underwood (right) conducts interview with murderess Louise Peete (Herald-Examiner Collection, December 22, 1944).
For more information and images about Aggie Underwood, see this exhibit page of the Los Angeles Public Library’s website.
Southern California is home for many businesses in the aerospace industry, and many women have helped in the exploration of our final frontier – outer space. The women pictured below performed scientific research and experimentation for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Altadena, helping to build rockets, launch space stations, and promote space exploration.
Female scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Altadena (Valley Times Collection, June 27, 1960).
Rocketdyne, formerly located in the San Fernando Valley, also employed many female scientists and engineers who worked in the field of rocket and missile design. To view images of these women, visit the Los Angeles Public Library’s blog about the Canoga Rockettes.
And check back with this blog for more photos of fascinating L.A. women!