Women of History: Frida Kahlo (Part Two)

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[WARNING: Paintings linked within in this post may have triggering content]

1937 also happened to be when Frida became more productive as an artist, with several self-portraits and other paintings.  She began to exhibit her paintings despite her own doubts about her talents.  However, others did not have the same doubts and she became more recognized as an artist in her own right, rather than just the wife of Diego Rivera.

Her first solo exhibition happened in New York City in 1938.  She managed to sell half of her paintings despite it being the great Depression, and her exhibit was also attended by several famous artists and public figures.  It brought more attention to her art and earned her two commissions.  One was for A. Conger Goodyear, who was the President and founder of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) which remains a major art museum.  Another was for Clare Boothe Luce, a socialite and political activist who commissioned a portrait of her friend, Dorothy Hale.   The painting depicted Hale’s suicide, with writing on the bottom with the details of the event. The painting was controversial due to what it depicted.

This would not however be the last time that a painting of Frida’s would be considered scandalous or controversial.  In fact, the following year she traveled to Paris for another exhibit of her artwork only to find the gallery refused to showcase most of her work.  They found it too controversial for their audiences.  However, on the brighter side the Louvre bought one of her paintings.  The Frame (1938) was the first artwork by a Mexican artist that the famous art collection had bought.

Frida moved back to her childhood home, La Casa Azul, in 1939 following her divorce from Diego. She would remain there until her death, living at times with her husband and/or her sister and her children.  The 1940s were a productive time for Frida, although her health started to decline even further.  She tried new mediums and substrates for her art and starting making art that was considered more sellable to support herself.

She continued to exhibit her art in Mexico and the United States, attending three separate exhibits in 1940 alone.  Some of her more famous paintings were painted while she was back at La Casa Azul.

1940 was troubling year personally however.  While her artistic work seemed to be going higher, her personal life and health suffered.  She was arrested and held for two days in Mexico City as she was investigated when her former lover, Leon Trotsky, was killed.  It was suspected that she, and her sister Cristina, knew who the murderer was.  She was released, however.  She then found herself in San Francisco soon afterwards dealing with various health problems, including a fungal infection and back pain.

While she was in San Francisco she was reunited with Diego, and the two reconciled.  They remarried in a civil ceremony on December 8, 1940 and returned to Mexico together.  Their marriage remained as it was before, with both having affairs.  Diego kept their old home in San Angel as a second apartment and his studio despite living at La Caza Azul.

Her health problems continued, as she had chronic pain due to her spine, her hand infection became a continuing problem, and at one point she was treated for Syphilis.  She went through twenty-eight different casts in 14 years due to the pain she lived through. She also suffered from depression after her father, who she had been close to, died in 1941.

One highlight of the 1940s was that Frida’s artwork had gained more notice in her native Mexico, and she was a member of the Seminario De Cultura Mexicana, a commission of the Mexican government to spread awareness of Mexican culture.  With the Seminario, she held various exhibitions, attended conferences and other promotions.  It led to her accepting a teaching position in a local national Art school called La Esmeralda.  Eventually her illnesses prevented her from having classes on campus, and instead she held them within her home and studio. Her students, known as Los Fridos for their devotion to her, continued her ideal of painting from Mexican culture and life.  Her own works continued to be somewhat controversial, but she always kept to what she wanted to express.

In 1945, she faced another health setback.  Her pain had worsened to the point that she could no longer sit or stand for long periods of time.  She traveled to New York for a surgery, but in the end the surgery did not help.  Like she always had, she painted her emotions into her art, such as The Wounded Deer (1946).

In 1950, she once again tried to get a bone graft, but it was not a smooth recovery, and several follow-up surgeries were required.  At this point, Frida was forced to use either a wheel chair or crutches to move around.  This did not stop her from being politically active or continuing her paintings.  She got an adjustable easel so she could paint from her wheelchair, and campaigned for a ban on nuclear weapons. When Doctors told her she needed to be on Bed rest and therefore could not attend her solo exhibit in 1953, she had her bed delivered to the gallery and had herself carried by ambulance and stretcher to it so she could attend the event.

As the mid fifties arrived, Frida’s health declined rapidly. In August 1953, only months after her exhibit, she had a leg amputation due to gangrene.  Her depression increased, and she became addicted to painkillers according to some sources.  At times she was suicidal and was hospitalized in 1954.

She was active till the very end, both as a political activist and as an artist.  In 1954, she released at least four paintings and she also attended a demonstration against the CIA invasion of Guatemala with her husband in July.  However, her activity did nothing to help the illness, and on July 13, 1954 Frida passed away at the age of 47.  Arguments about what actually caused her death appear to differ between various sources.

She was laid in state at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a cultural center, and a communist flag covered her casket. She was later cremated and her remains displayed in an urn at her home, La Caza Azul.  In her memory, Diego allowed her childhood home to become a museum to his wife’s artistic career, and for the promotion of Mexican history, culture and art.  He died in 1957, and the museum opened a year later.

Frida left behind a legacy in her art, and in her courage to do what she wanted despite people telling her she couldn’t.  She never let people change her into something she rather not be.  She preserved through physical pain and made artwork to express her life in a surrealist way.  Many people relate to her artwork.  Many people also relate to her, whether it is her feminism, her politics, her disabilities, or her bisexuality.

Her artwork has only increased in value, setting records for sale prices for Mexican artists. Two Nudes  in a Forest (1939) for example was auctioned in 2016 for 8 million dollars.  Interest in her art and her life have increased over the last few decades due to new biographies (such as Hayden Herrera’s Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo -1983) and the fact that in 1984 her works were considered national treasures and Mexico prohibited any more from leaving the country.

In more recent years, the biopic Frida (based on Herrera’s biography) was released in 2002 and stared fellow Mexican Selma Hayek.  It won several Academy awards.  She also gained a mention in 2017’s Coco.  In the US, she got her own postage stamp in 2001 and was inducted into the Legacy Walk in 2012.  In the past year, Mattel released a Frida doll as part of her new Women Role Models collection.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Frida Kahlo

Wikipedia: Diego Rivera

Wikipedia: Mexican Revolution

Biography.com: Frida Kahlo

Lisa’s History Room:  Frida Kahlo An Accidental Artist

Frida Kahlo.Org

The Frida Kahlo Foundation

Mattel Unveiled ‘Role Model’ Barbies for International Woman’s Day and I’ve never felt less Inspired – Biba Kang (Independent)

Mattel.com:  Barbie celebrates Role Models

Diary of a Mad Artist – Amy Fine Collins (Vanity Fair Magazine -1995)

 

 

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Women of History: Frida Kahlo (Part One)

Frida_Kahlo,_by_Guillermo_Kahlo_3

Frida Kahlo;  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Guillermo Kahlo; 1932

Frida Kahlo is a well-known artist and will be our featured Woman of History this week.

[WARNING: Paintings linked within in this post may have triggering content]

Frida was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon on July 6, 1907 in a small suburb of Mexico City.  Her father was a German immigrant to Mexico, Guillermo (born Carl Wilhelm) Kahlo.  He was a photographer, so the art bug came naturally to Frida.  Her mother was Matilde Calderon y Gonzalez, a Mexican born woman of indigenous and Spanish descent.  Guillermo and Matilde had four daughters together: Matilde, Adriana, Frida and Cristina.  Frida also had two half-sisters named Maria Louisa and Margarita, but they played a lesser part in her life.  Frida would be especially close to her younger sister Cristina. Continue reading

Women of History: Sally Ride

When I was 8 years old, the film Apollo 13 came out.  I was immediately fascinated with the space program and its history.  My main focus was on the programs prior to the space shuttle so I never looked into the history of the space shuttle outside of general missions before recently.  However, one of my personal ‘heroes’ was Sally Ride, and I decided for this week to feature the first american woman in space.

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, while not scientists themselves, promoted her interest in exploring. When she was 12, she was able to see the first female cosmonaut in space, Valentina Tereshkova, take her turn.  It would be 1982 before another woman would enter space.

After graduating from a private high school she attended on tennis scholarship, she attended Swarthmore College.  Eventually she would transfer to Stanford University, where she would earn her bachelor degree in both english and Physics.  She continued her education in physics, eventually gaining her PhD in Physics in 1978.  Her main focus was lasers and astrophysics.

While finishing her doctorate, she answered an advertisement seeking applicants for NASA.  She was chosen to join in 1978, and would continue to be a part of NASA’s team for the next several decades. Her class of astronauts were the first to include women, and she was one of six. She didn’t immediately get on a shuttle.  Her first positions were as a communicator between the ground and the capsule for the second and third space shuttle flights (Columbia STS-2 and STS-3) in the early eighties.  She was also on the team to develop some of the technology that would be installed in later Shuttles, such as the Canada-Arm robotic arm.

In 1982, the USSR launched another woman into space, this time Svetlana Savitskaya.   It would be the following year that Sally got to be the first American woman to reach earth orbit.  Her first mission was the Challenger STS-7 mission.

Like every other astronaut she prepared for her mission, and did press conferences.Prior to the launch in June,  Sally did a press run.  People were fascinated with how a woman would deal with the rigors of space travel – although several questions were sexist in nature.  She was asked about her reproductive cycle, and if she cried if things went wrong. People at NASA wondered if she needed a 100 tampons on her trip.

On June 18, 1983, the Challenger launched and was in orbit for nearly seven days (returning to earth on June 24th).  Sally was on board with four other crew members, all but one rookies, and together they launched several satellites, and conducted experiments.  It also allowed her to use the arm she helped design. Overall it was a successful mission.

A year later, in 1984, Sally traveled into space again on the Challenger STS-41-G.  This mission lasted for nearly 9 days.  It was also a mission with several firsts.  It was the first time two women had served on the same mission (Sally and Kathryn Sullivan), and it also contained two foreign astronauts.  It was also a crew of seven, the most crew members that the shuttle had held to that point.  An IMAX camera was used to film the flight, and the footage was later used in the film ‘The Dream is Alive’.

Sally’s third mission was scheduled for the summer of 1986, but was cancelled when tragedy struck in January.  On January 28, 1986 the Challenger was launched, but never made it to orbit.  the ship exploded in mid-flight, leading to the deaths of all on board.  For the next two years, missions were scrubbed and a in-depth investigation took place to prevent it from happening again.  Sally was assigned to one of the teams investigating the operations.

After the end of the investigation, Sally was put in charge of putting together an Office of Exploration in DC and making plans for the future of NASA after such a tragedy.  This would be her last assignment for NASA, choosing to go into education afterwards.  However, it was not her last involvement with the agency.

In 1987 she started to work at Stanford as part of the Center for International Security and Arms control, and two years later she became a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego.  She also became involved with NASA’s outreach programs to educate students and promote science and exploration. This would become a focus of Sally’s public life in the 90s and 2000s.

In 1985, she became involved with the love of her life, Tam O’Shaughnessy.  They had been long time friends, and their romantic relationship was kept private from the general public who didn’t know until after Sally’s death 27 years later.  Sally had been married once before, to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley, but that had ended in divorce in 1987.

Their relationship was also a professional one.  Sally and Tam wrote several children’s science books over the years, and founded the Sally Ride Science organization in 2001 which promoted education and women in STEM occupations.  After Sally’s death, Tam would continue to run the organization.  The organization also ran the Sally Ride Science Festival, an event to promote science.

Sally would also be the president of Space.Com (One of the sources below)

Sally would once again be asked to be part of the investigation of a tragedy, this time the disintegration of the Columbia spacecraft in February 1, 2003.  She was the only person to have served on both investigations.

Sally was private about her personal life, including when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2011.  On July 23, 2012 she died in her home in California.

After her death, she received several honors for her space travel and promotion of education and science.  President Barack Obama presented her posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, and during that same year she was honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  She received the highest honor given by the Space Foundation with General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award.

Perhaps Sally’s most important legacy is the one she has as woman.  Girls, like myself, grew up knowing they could make in space and in the science fields.  She promoted women in the STEM fields, and the education of children in space related sciences.  She also became posthumously a hero for the LGBTIA community.

In May 2018, the US Postal Service will be releasing a stamp in her honor.  This June will be the 35th Anniversary of her first mission into space.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Sally Ride
Wikipedia: STS-7
Wikipedia: STS-41-G /STS-17
Wikipedia: STS-61-M
Space.Com: Sally Ride
Sally Ride Science @ UC San Diago
NASA Biography: Sally K. Ride
A Brief History of menstruating in space
US Post Office Sally Ride Stamp

 

Happy St Patrick’s Day

I decided to take a break from my usual friday essay on Women of history this week as tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day.  The Day is celebrated differently in different regions of the world, and by various people within the US.  For some it is a religious holiday, a feast celebrating Saint Patrick, and for others it is simply a day to celebrate Irish culture and heritage.

As an American, I am more familiar with the secular version of the holiday then the religious. The day has become a day known for celebrating Irish/Irish-American history and culture as well as a food and drink holiday.  I have Irish ancestry on both sides of my family, but I don’t think that has much to do with why I like Saint Patrick’s day.  However, it’s a day for family and friends to gather around and share good food (most likely Irish in nature) and each other.  The area I live in has a large amount of people of Irish and German descent, so just about everyone can say “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”

So who was Saint Patrick?  And why was he connected to Ireland and March 17?  Well, that is what today’s post is about.

St Patrick was a Briton born during the Roman occupation.  While his actual time is debated, it is largely agreed that he was active as a missionary and bishop during the late fifth Century.  According to his own writings, he was not christian until his late teens, when he was taken prisoner in Ireland.

His hometown of Bannavem Taberniae has no modern equivalent so it is hard to say where he was from, except that it was from the British Isles or Northern France.  Many believe that it was southwestern Scotland, near the coast facing Ireland.

Patrick, from his own accounts, was born into a Catholic family.  His father Calpurnius was a deacon as well as a member of the local government, and his grandfather a Catholic Priest.  He himself wasn’t a strong believer, that is not untill he was 16.  At that time, he was captured by a crew of Irish raiders and taken to Ireland.

He lived in Ireland for about six years according to his Confession, before escaping back to his native land. He had spent his time on Ireland as a Sheppard, and strengthening his new-found faith in God.  He believed that God had led him to a ship that would take him home to his family.

He then became a cleric, studying christianity and eventually was ordained as a Priest, possibly by another saint, Germanus of Auxerre.  He claimed to have seen a vision of the people of Ireland calling out to him to lead them in their faith.

He came to Ireland as a bishop, replacing the outgoing Bishop Palladius. It is possible that the two men’s stories have intermingled over the centuries, and the legends of Saint Patrick is actually more a melting pot of Palladius (who was known as Patrick by some) and Patrick.

At some point during his ministry, he was put on trial by his fellow Irish Christians, which prompted him to write his declaration.  He, according to legend, banished snakes from the island, as Ireland was not known to have snakes.  It was more likely a naturally occurring absence.

Some of the common imagery on Saint Patrick’s day are legends in themselves.  The Shamrock,  also known as a clover, was credited as part of a parable that Patrick told to explain the holy Trinity.

Most of Patrick’s life is left to be guessed, due to the loss of any contemporary accounts of his activities other than his own writings, and the possibility that accounts that do remain might be confusing Palladius and Patrick together.

However, the legend of the man might be more important.  He has come to represent Ireland, being one of their patron saints, perhaps the most well-known.  His feast day is celebrated on the day he supposedly died, March 17, and at least in the United States its a day to celebrate being Irish (even if it’s just for a day).

It wasn’t always that way, and the United States has a history of prejudice against the Irish.  But it has come along way.  Saint Patrick’s day has taken a life of its own in the United States and Canada.  In Ireland however, it was only in the last twenty years that the day started to be more than just a religious observance.

So whether you celebrate this day as a religious observance or a cultural one, may you have a great St Patrick’s Day.

Further Reading:

Saint Patrick’s Day (US)

Wikipedia: Saint Patrick

Wikipedia: Palladius

Confession of Patrick – Saint Patrick

Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus – St Patrick

History.com: The History of St Patrick’s Day

 

Women of History: The First US Senators

This week we are going have a double feature, the first two women to ever serve in the US Senate:  Rebecca Felton and Hattie Caraway. Women having the right to vote was passed with the 19th amendment to the constitution in 1920, but it would be quite a while before women started taking office in the highest offices in the government.  In fact, Rebecca Felton was appointed to be a Senator for a day in 1922, but Hattie Caraway, the first woman to be elected to the Senate was sworn in November 1931, almost a full decade after Rebecca served her day.

Several of the next female Senators would be widows  of Senators who died in office. The first time more than 2 women served at once wouldn’t be till the 1990s. Even in the current congress, women only make up 22 percent of the elected body.  Only 29 states have ever had a female senator, and only 51 women have ever served in Congress.  The current congress is actually the highest percentage ever of women.

Rebecca Felton was born Rebecca Ann Latimer on June 10, 1935.  She grew up in Decatur, Georgia with three siblings. Her father was a general store owner and merchant, and was able to afford to send his daughter to live with relatives in Madison so that she could attend Methodist Female College, where she graduated at the top of her class in 1852 at 17.  The college at the time was set up to provide a foundation education for the women who would one day be the wives of the businessman and planters.  However, the war between the states would soon see the educational facility closed down.

A year later Rebecca married William Felton and moved with him in Cartersville, Georgia. William was, like her father, a planter and owned a plantation.  Her experiences during the civil war, both as a resident of Georgia who saw the results of Sherman’s march and her life as a slave owner influenced her later political life.  She saw slavery as mainly economical, a investment.  However, she felt that she would have rather have given up ‘domestic slavery’ then have seen the detriment of the war on Georgia.

After the war,both she and her husband became more politically active.  Rebecca herself focused on prison reform and women’s suffrage.  However, she was not a intersectional feminist by any means.  She pushed against the right to vote for black citizens, claiming education and voting would lead to more black crime.  She was in favor of lynching and was otherwise a supremacist in attitude.

Her time in the senate arrived as an appointment.  in 1922, Sen. Thomas E. Watson died.  The governor of Georgia, Thomas Hardwick, decided to appoint Rebecca as a placeholder till a special election could take place.  However, congress didn’t meet again until after the special election was held.  Hardwick had been running for the position, but ended up losing to Walter F. George.  George decided to allow Rebecca to be sworn in on November 21, 1922.  She was the Senator from Georgia for 24 hours, as George was sworn in on November 22.

Rebecca continued her activism after she left office.  She passed away on January 24, 1930 at the age of 94.  It would be another year before another woman would take office in the US Senate.

Hattie Caraway would be the first woman elected into the Senate, but like Rebecca it would start as an appointment.

She was born Hattie Ophelia Wyatt on February 1, 1878 in Bakersville, Tennessee.  Like Rebecca, she was the daughter of a farmer who owned a store.  The family as a whole moved to Hustburg when she was four.  She would remain there till her college years when she would transfer from Ebenezer College to Dickson Normal College where she would earn her bachelors of Arts degree in 1896.

She went on to teach for about eight years prior to her marriage to Thaddeus Caraway.  She had met Thaddeus in college, but the pair didn’t marry until 1902.  The pair would move to Jonesboro, Arkansas with their three children and set up a legal practice for Thaddeus and cotton farm.

In 1912, the couple made a second home in Maryland after Thaddeus was elected to the US House of Representatives for Arkansas.  He would hold that position for 9 years before he was elected senator in 1921.  In 1931, Thaddeus died suddenly from a blood clot while the couple was back home in Arkansas.  The governor decided to appoint Hattie to hold the seat till an election could be held.  She won the special election to finish out her husband’s final term.  She won an election on her own right in 1932, and then proceed to hold her seat until 1945.

During her time in office, she became the first woman to preside over the Senate, to chair a committee and to win a re-election.  She was given the responsibility of presiding over the senate twice.  Once in 1932 (although it was not officially noted down) and again in 1943. She was a great supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and his new deal programs, although she, like Rebecca before her, was against any anti-lynching bill.  She was focused on issues dear to her state,  requesting to serve on the agricultural committee.  She earned a reputation as “Silent Hattie”  for her lack of speeches made on the floor.  She tended to reserve her opinions for committee meetings and rallies instead.

After loosing her re-election campaign in 1944, she served both Roosevelt and Truman on their Employees’ Compensation committees. She suffered a stroke in early 1950 while still serving on the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board , and died later that year on December 21.

Further Reading

Women in the US Senate

Rebecca Felton

Wikipedia: Rebecca Latimer Felton

History of Madison Georgia

The History of the First Methodist Church of Madison

Country Life in Georgia – Rebecca Felton  (Ebook available free from Google Play)

Georgia Encyclopedia: Rebecca Latimer Felton

House History: Felton, Rebecca Latimer

Hattie Caraway

Wikipedia: Hattie Wyatt Caraway

House History: Caraway, Hattie Wyatt

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas: Hattie Ophelia Wayt Caraway

US Senate: A Woman Presides over the Senate

 

Master List

Women of History: Hedy Lamarr

One of the people I wanted to write about when I started this essay series was a classic film star named Hedy Lamarr.  In fact I had to check to make sure I hadn’t written about her before.  ​

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria.  She was born into a jewish family, but was raised as a Catholic by her mother Gertrud.  Her mother was from Budapest and her father was Ukrainian, but she grew up in Austria in the years following the first World War.  She was an only child, adored by her parents, although her mother tried to be stricter to balance things out.  Her father inspired an interest in learning how things worked, while her mother inspired her artistic side, which focused on Acting rather than musician as her mother had been.

Early on, Hedy decided that acting was a career she was interested in, and worked purposely to get it.  She worked as a script girl (forging school absence slips so she could get the job), and small background parts before getting her big break in a 1933 film Ecstasy.  The film was controversial in the US, but seen as artistic in Europe.  For Hedy, it was a disillusionment of the shine of an acting career.  She had been only 18, and was tricked by the director and other crew members into close up nude scenes.

For awhile she considered not continuing, but the film got recognition and other roles were presented to her, and it had always been her dream to be an actress.  She continued to do stage work, which brought her to the attention of Friedrich Mandl, an Austrian arms merchant.  He was quite wealthy and charming and won Hedy over.

Hedy married Mandl on August 10, 1933.   He was 33 to her 18.  She found herself often attending parties and business meetings with her husband, who took to being overly protective and prefered to keep her at his side.  He had strong ties with the fascist government of Italy, as well as the Nazi government of Hitler.  Hitler and Mussolini would even attend parties thrown in the couple’s own home.

While acting remained her career, it was during this time that Hedy was introduced to applied sciences.  She would listen and learn during the business meetings and parties, her interest in how things work developed into learning as she listened to the others speak about weapons and the science that went into the development.

However, in 1937, Hedy decided she had enough.  She did not appreciate a life as a trophy wife for Mandl, and had become disillusioned with her own country.  She left her husband and Austria behind and fled to Paris.

It was in Paris that her life would change.  While she was there, she met MGM Studios head LB Mayer.  Mayer was impressed with her acting, and convinced her to join MGM, although with a stage name.  Hedy was no longer Hedy Kiesler – She became Hedy Lemarr.

Her first film in the United States was Algiers in 1938 opposite Charles Boyer.  She won over crowds with her talent and her beauty.  Unfortunately this also made it hard for her to get a variety of roles.

She was called the ‘Most Beautiful Woman in the World’, and her roles often relied on that reputation. She became the inspiration for Snow White and Catwoman because of her beauty. It did however leave Hedy bored, as her roles often came with little challenge to the actress type-casted into the role of the stunning foreign woman.  When not on set, she was able to focus her intellect on her hobbies-including inventing.

Hedy had no formal education when it came to inventing, just what she had learned from observing her first husband’s business meetings and what she had later taught herself.  However, she had caught the bug for inventing.  Some were flops – like a tablet that would make a glass of water into a carbonated beverage.  In the end it wasn’t much different then Alka-seltzer.

However, some of them were successful, and even well-known.  During the second war, Hedy had heard about issues that the military was having torpedo frequencies being interrupted by the enemy and sending their missiles off course. She already knew that her husband and other arms dealers supplying the Axis had been developing ways to jam the frequencies before she left Austria. She decided to work on the problem, and got her friend George Antheil, a music composer, to help her.  The two of them had been friends for several years and shared a strong need to help out the war effort.  Antheil was a composer, and was known for experimenting with different instruments and mechanical devices to create sound.  It was through the use of a piano roll that the two developed the idea for spread spectrum radio.   The idea was that sending out a signal that would ‘hop’ across several frequencies – known to the sender and receiver – would prevent someone from turning on the same frequency and jamming the signal from reaching its target.  They called this  “Secret Communications System.”​

They were successful, and patented their designs in August of 1942.  At the time, however, the importance of this invention was unknown.  Technology made it hard to implement and it was ignored or put on the back burner.  In fact, George Antheil, who died in 1959, would not live to see it in action.

However over the next few decades technology started to catch up with Hedy & George’s idea.  In the 1960s, the military had taken the idea and developed a version to use in their ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, twenty years after Hedy & George had patented the idea.  The full impact of spread spectrum radio would not be felt till a few more decades past and the internet started to grow.  It allowed for faster internet connections, and was the underlying work on which GPS, Bluetooth and Wifi were based on.

So you can thank Hedy Lamarr for many of the communications technology that we use every day, such as cellphones, the GPS in our car, using Bluetooth to talk handless through our phones or vehicles, and being able to have mobile internet available to tablets, laptops and phones without the need to have wires dragging behind us.

Hedy’s contribution to science and communication technology was not really recognized until the late nineties, when she received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer award in 1997 for her invention.  SHe was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014, four years after her death.

In her personal life, Hedy found more obstacles than success at times.  She would marry five more times, have three children, and even write her own memoir.  But she would also deal with increasing agoraphobia, discord with her children (in particular her eldest), and public scandals.  At one point she was rumored to have an addiction to prescription pills as well.  THe various depths of her problems depend on the source of the information. Hedy herself was a very private person, and even admitted later in life to not writing a truthful memoir.

Hedy died on January 19, 2000 at the age of 85.  She had lived long enough to see herself become a “classic film star” and see her invention finally be put to real use.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Hedy Lamarr 

Biography.com: Hedy Lamarr 

Women Inventors: Hedy Lamarr

The Official Hedy Lamarr Website

Anna Couey: How “The Bad Boy Of Music” And “The Most Beautiful
Girl In The World” Catalyzed A Wireless Revolution–In 1941
  (1997)

Women in STEM: Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr: Inventor of Frequency Hopping

Orlando Sentinel: Court to Weigh Plea of Lamarr’s estranged son

Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy the Lamarr, the most beautiful woman in the world – Richard Rhodes (via Google Books)

Vanity Fair: How Inventive “Genius” Hedy Lamarr Became a Hollywood Tragedy

Smithsonian:  Team Hollywood’s Secret Weapons System

The Marketplace: The Story of Hedy Lamarr

The Atlantic: Celebrity Invention: Hedy Lamarr’s Secret Communications System

 

To read more in this series, see the Master list