Edith Cavell: Sentenced to Death for Giving Life

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World War I pushed people across the world to every limit imaginable. One of those people was Edith Cavell, who found herself working as the matron of a nurse’s training school in Brussels, Belgium when Germany invaded in 1914 at the start of World War I.

Instead of trying to flee, Cavell remained, saying she was needed at a time like this more than ever.

She’d go on to back up that statement, becoming a beacon of humanity for the Allied Powers and someone we should all aspire to be more like.

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1. Treating the “Enemy”

In September 1914, Cavell was ordered to help two British soldiers wounded behind German lines. She treated the men in her hospital and then arranged to have them smuggled out of Belgium into neutral Holland (current day Netherlands).

This feat led her to join a network of people focused on sheltering Allied soldiers and Belgians eligible for military service to help them escape. Over the next 11 months, Cavell helped around 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers, keeping them in the hospital and arranging for guides to take them to the border.


The Germans asserted that while Cavell was aiding in the process of returning Allied soldiers to the enemy forces to fight against Germany, her network was relaying information to British intelligence.

Reports and first-hand testimonies in the Belgian archives from the end of WWI regarding Cavell’s network show that some intelligence tactics may have taken place. One account was from Herman Capiau, a Belgian engineer who had brought the first British soldiers to Cavell in 1914:

“Whenever it was possible to send interesting intelligence on military operations, this information was forwarded to the English intelligence service punctually and rapidly.”

Capiau referred to information about a German trench system, the location of munitions dumps and the whereabouts of aircraft. The details were hidden ingeniously in clothes. Messages were written on strips of fabric and sewn into clothes or concealed in shoes and boots.

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2. The Trial

After nearly a year of successful transporting, Cavell was captured and accused of harboring Allied soldiers. German police were suspicious of Cavell’s activities, but a Frenchman named Gaston Quien ultimately did her in. Gaston would later be convicted by a French court for his treasonous behavior with the Germans and betrayal to Cavell.

For Cavell, after three days of meandering questioning, German authorities tricked her into talking by telling her they already had the necessary information to convict her, and the best way to save her co-conspirators would be to make a full confession. Cavell believed the interrogators and confessed with names, dates and locations.

It took the German military court just two days to convict her. When Cavel heard the death sentence pronounced, she accepted without reaction. Her, along with 33 other conspirators were sentenced to death by firing squad.

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3. Firing Squad Execution

The night before her execution, Cavell met with a chaplain who recorded their conversation. With the clock on her life down to the final hours, Cavell said to the chaplain:

“I have told you that devotion will give you real happiness and the thought that you have done, before God and yourselves, your whole duty and with a good heart will be your greatest support in the hard moments of life and in the face of death.”

Cavell was found guilty on October 7, and five days later at dawn, the 49-year-old heroine was shot by firing squad in Brussels where it all began.

Her execution was legal under international law, but following worldwide demand for her release, triggered severe outrage.


Cavell’s unjust execution made her a symbol for the Allied cause, and her legacy was used in recruiting messages around the world. After the war, her body was exhumed and escorted to Britain where she was later reburied in Norwich Cathedral.

A lot of people have morals, but Edith Cavell unflinchingly followed through on hers, and in the most perilous of circumstances. Even in the waning moments of her life, Cavell stood by her actions with grace, dignity. Today’s—and any—world could use more badasses like her.

 

 

Eleanor Roosevelt, The First, “First Lady of the World”

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Not too long ago, women were expected to stay in the background of their men. They had fewer rights, less practical input in their own homes and zero influence in the United States. Less than 100 years ago, women couldn’t even vote. One hundred years may seem like a long time to you and me, but it’s a blink of an eye in the development of our country. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the first women to start the progression of the modern-day woman and no matter what time period you use to judge her, she was a total badass.

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Eleanor Roosevelt was married to arguably the greatest president that this country has ever seen, but instead of lurking in the shadows of FDR while he ran the country, she used her role as the First Lady to inspire change. President Harry Truman called Eleanor Roosevelt the “First Lady of the world” because of her human rights accomplishments. Like I said before, total badass.

This is a woman who had a position of influence and used it to her advantage. She was an incredibly outspoken woman for the time period, so naturally, she ruffled some feathers whenever she spoke for an agenda that was seen as taboo. The woman behind the most powerful man in the world at the time took her title of First Lady and parlayed that influence into changing the lives of both men and women in the present and future.

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1. The First First Lady to Hold a Press Conference

Hillary Clinton ran for president after an eight-year stint as the First Lady. Michelle Obama was very active and outspoken when her husband and former President Barack Obama was in the Oval Office. These women knew how to take advantage of the resources around them and that trend started with Eleanor Roosevelt.

As the Women’s Rights Movement was in full-swing, Eleanor Roosevelt hosted the first-ever press conference by a First Lady. As a form of solidarity to her female companions, this press conference was only for women in the media. This type of open forum gave her the platform to express her agenda without any type of censorship, encouraging more women to enter the press corps while also influencing female voters. Eleanor Roosevelt gave women across the country and around the world a voice.

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2. Eleanor Roosevelt Spoke for FDR

With her husband confined to a wheelchair, Eleanor Roosevelt took every opportunity to hit the road and speak for FDR. This was a time period where women didn’t have much of a say and yet there was the First Lady speaking publicly on behalf of the President of the United States. One specific area where Eleanor Roosevelt was incredibly vocal was about how to improve the economy through FDR’s New Deal policies.

She was also a symbol of the United States while the country was at war. As FDR had trouble traveling because of his debilitating disease, it was Eleanor Roosevelt who would travel around to greet service men and women. She was a big supporter of women’s roles in the war and the women who had to enter the job force because their husbands were in Europe or Asia fighting.

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3. Civil Rights Activist

Segregation was—and still is—a problem in our country but one of the most outspoken Civil Rights activists was none other than Eleanor. The beauty behind this is that while she was a staunch advocate for women’s rights, she cared about all people who were wronged, especially due to race or socioeconomic status.

The most incredible example of her Civil Rights actions came at the Southern Conference for Human Welfare in Birmingham in 1938. When she entered the room, she immediately sat next to an African American at the conference. She was told to sit in the “Whites Only” section by one of the conference organizers, at which point she asked for a ruler. People were confused but once Eleanor Roosevelt was given a ruler, she measured the distance between the white and black seating sections. Once the distance between the two seating sections was measured, she moved her chair to sit in the exact center until the meeting was over. At a time where she could have been arrested for a protest like that, she stared segregation laws directly in the eyes without blinking.

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4. Other Interesting Tidbits About Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Amelia Earhart attended a dinner at the White House and hit it off with Eleanor Roosevelt. As the party became stagnant, the two snuck out to Earhart’s plane and took a quick ride around the skies.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt was an influential author. She wrote the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. She also produced a syndicated newspaper column that ran six days a week for 27 years. The column covered her day-to-day life as well as her political views.
  • Eleanor was actually her middle name. Her full name is Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, but she preferred her middle name to her first name. Her mother called her by the nickname “Granny” as a child because Eleanor acted in such a serious manner. Talk about foreshadowing…
  • Family ties: President Teddy Roosevelt was her uncle and her husband FDR was actually her fifth-cousin once removed.

According to Eleanor Roosevelt, the happiest day of her life was the day she made her field hockey team at her private school. She was 76-years-old when she made that statement, so the White House obviously wasn’t as fun as dominating field hockey.