Every year, a presidential proclamation is made to declare March as Women’s History Month, which has been celebrated nationally since 1987.The following are 10 women who have influenced history and made progress for women in a largely patriarchal society.
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was an English mathematician who became the first computer programmer after she wrote algorithms for a computing machine. From a young age, Lovelace took an interest in mathematics. She also developed a theory that explains how the computer can repeat a series of data or instructions. This theory is still used in coding and programming to this day. In 1852, Lovelace died after a long battle with uterine cancer.
Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) was a Chinese-American woman who contributed significant research, studies and discoveries to nuclear and particle physics. Wu was awarded the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978 for her well-known Wu experiment. This experiment proved that parity is not conserved. Wu was also involved in the Manhattan Project, which was the production of the first nuclear weapons during WWII.
Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) was India’s third prime minister and the only woman prime minister India has had. Many considered her to be the strongest prime minister India has ever seen. Her father, Jawarahal Nehru, was India’s first prime minister after the country gained independence from British rule. She led a successful war against Pakistan to separate East and West Pakistan and aided in the recognition of Bangladesh as an independent nation. In 1984, Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.
Kamala Harris (1964-) is an American lawyer and politician. Harris’ mother was from India and her father was from Jamaica. She served as the Attorney General of California prior to her election to the U.S. Senate in 2016. She was the first Indian American and second African American woman to become a U.S. senator. In early 2020, President Joe Biden announced that Harris would be his running mate for the presidential election. In January 2021, Harris was sworn in as the first female, Indian and Black vice president of the United States.
Malala Yousafzai (1997-) is a Pakistani education activist, who primarily advocates for girls and women’s rights and fought to allow girls in her country to be able to go to school. In 2012, Yousafzai was shot by a Taliban member while she was participating in a protest for education. She did not let her injury stop her from fighting for a change, and this move ultimately led her to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) was a chemist and X-ray crystallographer. She is largely known for her research of the structure of DNA. Franklin also studied the tobacco mosaic virus and the polio virus. She was able to identify the structure of both viruses through X-ray diffraction and crystallography. Franklin’s contributions that were not widely recognized and accepted until after her death in 1958.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) served in the U.S. Supreme Court for 27 years. She was the second woman and first Jewish woman to serve on the court after she was nominated by former President Bill Clinton in 1993. Ginsburg was well known as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights. Shortly before her passing, she visited Meredith for the Lillian Parker Wallace Lecture in September 2019.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was an American abolitionist and women’s rights activists. She was known as Isabella Baumfree until 1843 when she became convinced that God had called upon her to leave the city and live in the countryside so that she may testify “the hope that was in her.” Truth was born into slavery in 1797, but she and her infant daughter escaped and gained their freedom in 1826. Truth’s most well known speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?”, became widely known during the Civil War, though this version had been rewritten in a Southern dialect despite Truth being a born New Yorker and being a native Dutch speaker.
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) was an American writer and abolitionist who was one of the two leading figures in the women’s voting rights movement. Anthony paved the way for the 19th Amendment, which gives American women the right to vote, to be added to the U.S. Constitution.
Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002), a close friend of Marsha P. Johnson, was a gay liberation and transgender rights activist. Rivera joined the Gay Activists Alliance at the age of 18, where she fought for gay rights and the inclusion of drag queens like herself. She also worked with the Gay Liberation Front in a similar manner.
Although March is dedicated to women’s history, these figures and more should be appreciated throughout the year.
By Rania Abushakra and Maggie Barnhill, Staff Writers