Updated: Jul 26, 2021
"Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory..."
Grand feats and simple acts by women have made numerous positive differences in the world--and many of their stories have remained hidden. Thank goodness we are living in a time when we can finally learn about women’s gifts and the courage and tenacity it took them to bring them forth.
Let’s hold the vision and intention together that by knowing women’s stories from the past, women and girls alive today and in the future will be honored and respected for their contributions. Here are just a few women with stories most of us did not know.*
1. American grade-schoolers know about colonial hero Paul Revere and his midnight ride to warn of the British army's arrival. But another hero, not found in history textbooks, was Sybil Ludington, daughter of American Revolution militia volunteer, Colonel Henry Ludington. At age sixteen, she rode her horse, Star, in freezing rain at night more than forty miles (twice the distance Paul Revere rode), to go to each of the men's farms in her father's regiment and notify them to reassemble for battle. The 400 troops successfully defeated the British. Sybil Ludington was commended by General George Washington who came to her home to offer his gratitude to her.
2. British writer Mary Shelley, born in 1797, wrote Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus at age nineteen, virtually inventing the genre of science fiction. Famed poet Lord Byron was the father of the lessor-known Ada Lovelace (Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace). Ada, born in London in 1815, showed a gift for mathematics as a young child. Though not customary at the time for girls to receive mathematics or science instruction, her mother insisted that Ada do so. As a teenager, she was mentored by inventor and mathematician, Charles Babbage. The two worked together on the earliest computer models, and Ada became an early computer programmer.
3. Clara Brown overcame tremendous obstacles in her life. Born a slave in Virginia in 1800, she married another slave and bore four children. Her heart was broken as family members were sold at auction and the family was split apart. Clara spent years searching for her lost family, and ultimately became an extremely successful businesswoman. She located some of her children, reunited what family was left and, along the way, helped many slaves to freedom.
4. Pitching for the Chattanooga Lookouts Class AA, Jackie Mitchell was one of the first female pitchers in professional baseball. The very first was Lizzie Arlington in 1898. In an exhibition game against the New York Yankees on April 2, 1931, Jackie struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Just days later, Jackie was banned from both minor and major league baseball by Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis because baseball was considered "too strenuous" for a woman.
5. Irena Sendler was a Polish nurse and social worker who defied the Nazis and is responsible for smuggling 2,500 Jewish infants and children out of Nazi ghettos in Poland. American historian Deborah Dwork described Sendler as "the inspiration and the prime mover for the whole network," noting that about 400 of the children were directly smuggled out by Sendler herself. When Sendler was caught by the Germans in 1943, she was tortured, brutally beaten, and had her feet and legs broken. Her spirit remained unbroken though, and right before her scheduled execution by the Nazis, her death was prevented by a member of Zegota (code-name for the Polish Council to Aid Jews) who bribed a Gestapo guard.
6. Hedy Lamarr was a glamorous Austrian and American film star in the 1930s and 1940s. She partnered with composer George Antheil at the start of World War II to jam Nazi communications. Lamarr and Antheil developed a radio guidance system using spread spectrum (a form of wireless communication) and frequency-hopping technology—now incorporated into Bluetooth technology and Wi-Fi, as well as CDMA, a channel access method used by various radio frequencies. Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
7. At age twenty-five, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, a British-American astronomer and astrophysicist, proposed an explanation for the composition of stars. Astronomers Otto Struve and Velta Zebergs described her PhD thesis, "Stellar Atmospheres: A contribution to the observational study of high temperature in the reversing layers of stars," as "undoubtedly the most brilliant" astronomy thesis ever written.
Let us feel gratitude for these pioneering, bold, helpful women who changed our world for good. May our journeys be inspired by theirs.
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Have a beautiful week and feel the power of our New World Women sisterhood as we change the world, one woman’s life at a time.