“There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish.” – Michelle Obama
Amen to that. Haha, okay, you know I’m not a woman, but your uncle is a feminist and I respect women (seemingly more so than a number of guys my age and older, but that’s for another blog post). Throughout history and across cultures, women and girls have faced innumerable challenges and injustices. Thankfully, there have been extraordinary women who have challenged society and pushed it toward the better. Below are some women from different countries and time periods, each with their own great accomplishments who changed the world for the better.
There are many, many more, but this post would reach novella length to list them all y’know. I’ve kept their descriptions brief, if you want to know more, you can do your own research. It’s just a starting point, in case your history class feels flooded by men and you want to find out what courageous and incredible women were doing while men were being written in to (and writing) the history books. Girl power!
- Cleopatra – The last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt. Famed for her beauty and intellect, and her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, changing the course of history in the process.
- Annie Jump Cannon – Besides having a bad ass name, she classified about 400,000 stars and cataloged them by brightness and their chemical spectrum which was essential in the development of contemporary stellar classification. She developed improved methods for spectral analysis that are still used today.
- Harriet Tubman – Escaped slavery and became a leading abolitionist. She led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. She also served as a spy during the Civil War.
- Sailor Moon – Not all women who change the world have to be real y’know. She may not have created anime or the magical girl genre of it, but she sure as hell popularized both. She wasn’t the perfect fighting hero, she was at first someone who was more concerned with boys, eating, and going to the arcade (she lives in Japan and arcades are still popular there). She wasn’t the smartest girl and was a crybaby, but she had a heart of gold. She eventually overcame all of her flaws and insecurities to become Princess Serenity.
- Michelle Obama – One of my fashion icons. Before she was the first lady, she was a lawyer and Mom in Chief. She’s also an activist, visionary and author. During President Obama’s time in office, she led several meaningful initiatives, most notably her Let’s Move! campaign to fight childhood obesity. A very classy lady indeed.
- Oprah Winfrey – She used her talk show to help viewers live their best lives, her book club created millions of readers, she’s a billionaire who still gives millions to charities. Josh Peck was right when he said “Oprah can do anything!”.
- Madonna – Multi-talented woman who has the most important vagina in the world (tee hee, okay, that’s an inside joke I share with your other uncle). Anyway, she’s commonly known as the “Queen of Pop” and rightly so, she has made innovative, boundary-pushing creativity. Her top-of-the-chart hits have spanned across decades.
- Marie Curie – The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win it twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different science branches (Physics and Chemistry). She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris.
- Joan Ganz Cooney – One of the founders of Sesame Workshop, the organization famous for the creation of the children’s television show Sesame Street, which was also co-created by her. Sesame Street is a treasure and has helped kids learn how to learn, and I’ve already seen you watch it, Reiina.
- Miep Gies – One of the people who helped and protected Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis for over two years during World War II. She is also the woman responsible for saving Anne’s diary after the Franks were arrested.
- Anne Frank – I highly recommend reading this young lady’s diary, Reiina. It was written as she and her family hid from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic. It reminds us of both the Holocaust’s unconscionable inhumanity and atrocities and the child who still somehow managed to write, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”.
- Elizabeth Eckford – Racism is such a petty and ignorant point of view. Anyway, she was one of the first black students to attend a desegregated high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. The photograph of her at fifteen years old surrounded by a hateful crowd of angry white people is a powerful one, especially since that didn’t happen even a lifetime ago.
- Malala Yousafzai – Defied the Taliban in Pakistan and became an advocate for girls’ education when she herself was still a child. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She has since became the global face for female education.
- Maya Angelou – Iconic writer, activist and a leading force in the civil rights movement who is best known for her influential series of autobiographies and poetry. Her words were like gold for the mind, and her “Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud” quote is one I live by.
- Claudette Colvin – She needs more love. A civil rights activist in Alabama during the 1950s. She refused to give up her seat on a bus nine months before Rosa Parks’ more famous protest. Black leaders did not publicize her effort because she was a teenager who was reportedly impregnated by a married man.
- Maria Montessori – Educator, physician, and innovator. She’s acclaimed for her educational method that builds on the way children naturally learn which is still implemented in Montessori schools to this very day.
- Helen Keller – The first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. She overcame her disabilities to become a leading humanitarian and also a co-founder of the ACLU.
- Sandra Day O’Connor – The first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. She was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on August 12, 2009 by President Obama.
- Mary Wollstonecraft – A writer, philosopher and women’s rights activist, who is probably best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman written in 1792. In it, she argued that women are not naturally inferior to men and should be treated as rational beings, a respectable opinion that I subscribe to.
- Carol Moseley Braun – Became the first black woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992. As a senator, she tackled many issues, including women’s rights and civil rights.
- Alice Hamilton – A leading expert in the field of occupational health and a pioneer in the field of industrial toxicology. She was the head of Illinois’ Occupational Diseases Commission, the original forerunner of today’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- Maya Lin – At the age of 21 while still an undergraduate at Yale University, her design was chosen in a national competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is considered one of the most influential and important memorials.
- Benazir Bhutto – Became the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim country. Having been elected the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan, she tried her best to enact her campaign promises of social, economic and political reform. She continued her work until her tragic assassination in 2007.
- Ellen DeGeneres – Or as I playfully call her, “Ellen DeGenerous”. She’s a funny woman who has mastered the media dimension in TV, film, voice acting and comedy. She reminds us that the world should be a more kind, loving and fun place.
- Sally Ride – The first American woman in space. At the age of 32, she remains the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space.
- Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody – the first woman to achieve the rank of four-star general. In 2005, she became the Army’s top-ranking female when she received the promotion to lieutenant general (three stars) and became the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4.
- Aaliyah Dana Haughton – I always felt that if she didn’t die, she would be in the position Beyonce is in now. She was one of music’s brightest stars and her influence on contemporary artists in the rap and r&b world is evident, even your mom was influenced by her. Whilst she was alive, she released music sparingly, but when she did, she sung with impact.
- Junko Tabei – She was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, and the first woman to ascend all Seven Summits by climbing the highest peak on every continent. In addition to her climbing, she worked on ecological matters.
- Margaret Hamilton – Was the director of Software Engineering for the Apollo Space Program. A computer scientist, she helped write the computer code for the command and lunar modules used on the Apollo missions to the moon in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
And there are even more women today making history. I guess what I want you to get the most out of this blog post, Reiina is that women are capable of doing anything. Be aware there are some people (mostly socially stunted men) who still think a woman’s worth is based on the size of her ass and breasts or her “most important job” is to bear children (I facepalm every time). Reiina, you, your mom, your grandma, my favorite teacher from OPHS and every other woman who has lived, is living and will live are more than all that. Your legacy is going to be whatever the heck you want it to be and don’t let anyone tell you different. I’ll leave you with a classic song called “I’m Every Woman”. I hope and pray you will grow up to be as confident as this song.