Women who made history – a celebration
Today is International Women’s Day. It’s a chance to celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. Women have faced many obstacles in society to make a name for themselves; from education to career choice, health to inequality. Becoming a scientist, doctor or entrepreneur was not always within the realm of possibilities for women. But, throughout history there have been remarkable women who campaigned tirelessly in their fight for justice and equality. They have had to struggle hard to enter traditionally male-dominated domains, such as science and politics, and in actively pursuit of their goal have inspired new generations of women. Theirs have been stories of success.
Books for Children
Here are a few titles about some of the trailblazing women who made history. These children’s books tell of remarkable women and their groundbreaking achievements; how they changed history and, arguably, made the world a better place. Within these pages are female champions and role models, and we urge you to take a look at the array of informative, illustrative and fun books for children to enjoy.
Amazing Women: Discover the stories of 101 extraordinary women; an international cast of high achievers in fields ranging from science and politics to sport and the arts.
Women in Sport: celebrates the success of tough, bold and fearless sportswomen. They include well-known figures such as the tennis player Serena Williams and broadcaster Clare Balding, as well as lesser-known pioneers like Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, and Keiko Fukuda, the highest-ranked female judoka in history.
Three Cheers for Women: Marcia Williams’s much-loved comic-strip style will encourage even the most reluctant reader to enjoy this inspirational book packed with facts, quotes and jokes.
Her Story: In this uplifting and inspiring book, children learn about 50 intrepid women from around the world and throughout history. It tells the story of their childhood, the challenges they faced and the changes they made. It is a celebration of girl power in its many forms, is gorgeously illustrated and depicts a range of careers by pioneering women; from astronauts to activists, musicians to mathematicians. young readers will be inspired to follow their own dreams and to make the world a better place. Compelling, motivating and brilliantly illustrated in equal measure, this is the perfect introduction to just some of the amazing women who have shaped our world.
100 Women who made History: the perfect history book for children aged 9 and up as they discover those women who left their mark.
Little Leaders: Featuring the true stories of 40 trailblazing black women. Debut author/illustrator Vashti Harrison pairs captivating text with stunning illustrations of both the famous and lesser-known female figures of black history.
Exemplary Women – Book recommendations
Here’s a look at what’s been written about the achievements of a select group of women who have changed the world for the better with their talent, handwork and determination.
Emmeline Pankhurst – Mother Suffragette
It all started with a group of very brave and bold women known as the Suffragettes to rebel against society that forbade women to participate and have their voices heard in politics by refusing them the vote. They fought to bring about major changes that would change history forever and enable women across all borders and generations to make their own history. Emmeline Pankhurst spearheaded the campaign for a woman’s right to vote and proved actions speak louder than words. In 1903 she set up the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She led thousands of suffragettes to fight for equality and in 1918, British women aged over 30 were given the right to vote. Women can now be seen all across politics holding major roles and leading departments as well as the country.
Rosa Parks – First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement
By refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama to a white person, Rosa Parks helped initiate the Civil Rights movement. A legal and social system of racial segregation defined Alabama, USA. The system repressed African American people and created racial segregation. This defiance act is embedded as one of the most defining moments in the Civil Rights Movement. This led to the bus boycott led by Martin Luther King and consequently the US Supreme Court ruled the segregation on buses was unconstitutional.
Rosa Parks received many awards for her activism and proved one act can change society for the better. In 1980, at the 25th anniversary celebration of the bus boycott, Parks was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize. In 1984, she was given the Eleanor Roosevelt Women of Courage Award.
In 2014, Malala Yousafazi became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her bravery and fight against the Taliban for girls’ right to education. The Pakistani schoolgirl began writing a blog to draw attention to the injustices of the Taliban who banned girls from attending school. Malala rebelled and regardless of death threats received from the Taliban carried on attending school. In October 2012, a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head, she narrowly avoided death. She was flown to UK for treatment where she made an amazing recovery and began attending school in Birmingham. She was invited to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, where she gave a remarkable speech for why every child’s right to education matters and how terrorism and threats will not deter her. Due to her bravery and persistence the UN has renewed its promise to fight for primary education for every child in the world. In her native Pakistan, every child now has the right to free education. Her autobiography tells her extraordinary story.
Frida Kahlo – Self starter
Frida Kahlo is one of the world’s most famous Latin American painters. As a renowned Mexican painter she broke the mould with her surrealist style and is admired as a feminist icon. She painted self-portraits revealing her personal struggles and voiced the strengths and struggles of millions of women. At a time when female artists were too often ignored by critics, her paintings gathered a wide audience and made her an icon. She was, to some extent, a queen of the ‘selfie’; an exponent of self-portraits who always broke with convention.
Mary Wollstonecraft – ‘Britain’s first feminist’
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman published in 1792 added a dissenting female voice to the philosophical and political emancipation that included men but not women. In her book she set out her revolutionary ideas about the place of women in society and argued for the greater involvement of women. She made a powerful case for liberating women and argued avidly for girls to receive the same education as boys. Though the term feminism was not devised at the time, she established the earliest great expression of feminist ideas.
Did you know that Mary Wollstonecraft was the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein? Frankenstein also known as The Modern Prometheus is a popular Gothic novel about a young scientist who creates a monster in his laboratory. The story has spawned various novels, stage plays and movie adaptations.
Gloria Steinem – New Wave Feminist
Gloria Steinem is a journalist, social political activist. She has been the face of the American feminist movement since the late 1960s. At a time when women were not permitted to apply for credit cards without the presence of a husband, Steinem opposed all rules and norms set by men and through activism became one of the most influential leaders of the 1960s women’s liberation movement.
Interestingly she made headlines in the 1960s when she went undercover as a Playboy bunny and infiltrated the Playboy Club. She exposed the sexist and inhumane treatment of the women who worked there by publishing her findings in ‘A Bunny’s Tale’. She went after Hugh Hefner the founder of Playboy and Hefner as a response made many changes.
In order to continue voicing her beliefs, she along with other New Wave Feminists started the feminist publication ‘Ms Magazine’ and the National Women’s Political Caucus to educate women on politics and encourage them to get involved. Her columns and pieces on women’s rights are a must read and her memoir is not to be missed too. She has continued to rally for women’s rights and has been regarded as a pioneering feminist. Amidst much criticism and obstacles she has paved the way for feminists to be heard and encouraged women to be independent.
J K Rowling – The writing wizard
J.K Rowling is a multi-award winning author of the famous Harry Potter series which has sold over 450 million books worldwide. She came up with the idea of Harry Potter, the boy wizard, on a delayed train. The first manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers before the 13th publishing house, Bloomsbury Publications, agreed to take it. But there was a catch. Rowling was encouraged to use her initials J K and not her first name Joanne because it was thought boys might not want to read a book about a boy wizard written by a woman. The Harry Potter stories have gone on to become the best selling book series in history. She has become a pioneer for an entire generation and many more as children continue to be captured by the world of Harry Potter. She has changed the face of children’s book publishing as Dumbledore once said “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” The books have cast a magical spell on children’s literature with her imaginative and creative thinking that transcends readers into a new world. The books have been translated into over 73 languages breaking the barriers of language and bringing children from all parts of the world to belong.
Rosalind Franklin – Pioneering scientist
Rosalind Franklin was born in London in 1921 and studied natural sciences at Cambridge University. In 1951 she started studying the structure of DNA at King’s College, London. She used a special method called x-ray diffraction and produced a photograph known as Photograph 51. The photograph demonstrated a double helix structure. The discovery of the structure of DNA was one of the 20th century’s massive accomplishments in science. However, she did not receive the credit for her part in it during her lifetime.
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and is the only person to win Nobel Prizes in multiple sciences, physics and chemistry. At a time when science was considered a male domain, she leapt above all societal and sexist obstacles to become history’s foremost female physicist. Her work was useful and important in the development of x-ray machines and her work in radiation is groundbreaking. Along with her husband Pierre Curie they changed the world with their work. Together they discovered radioactivity, she went on to discover two new radioactive elements, radium and polonium.
Lady Ava Lovelace – Computer whiz
Lady Ada Lovelace was the world’s first computer programmer who wrote the first computer code. As a child she had a passion for mathematics and when she was 17 she met British mathematician Charles Babbage, who had designed an early computer to do calculations. She further devised an algorithm that allowed the machine to perform different tasks. She got people to think about the different ways a computer can be used. Today everyone uses a computer for basically everything but it had to originate from somewhere and it was from the mind of a woman. She was a brilliant mathematician who paved the way for more female mathematicians and computer programmers, a field denied to women for a long time.
Hedy Lamarr – The movie star inventor
Hedy Lamarr was born in Austria-Hungary and worked on many Hollywood films, but it is her invention of spread-spectrum technology that truly makes her remarkable. This beauty starlet had an incredible brain whose invention has helped technology immensely, enabling GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. She had no scientific training yet she was a pioneer in the world of wireless communication. Along with inventor George Anthiel, she developed the Secret Communication System to help military action with a radio control mechanism that would easily read the frequency hopping However, the enormous significance of her invention was not realized until 1962. This was due to limited technology at the time that the invention was not put in use. But later an updated version of Secret Communications System was installed into US Navy ships. Her invention is essential to the use of Wi-Fi that people around the world are ever so dependent on. Hedy Lamarr was visionary whose mind and creation was ahead of time.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – NASA’s Hidden Figures
The extraordinary story of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson, the wildly brilliant intellectuals who worked for NASA and helped achieved many NASA milestone accomplishments is so important, especially today. For a long time NASA accomplishments were called man’s achievement but these truly hidden figures who worked behind the scene have only just begun to receive the accolades that they deserved a long time ago. It is a history and science lesson that all girls and boys must learn. The extraordinary story of three African American women who faced many obstacles of discrimination with segregated buildings and separate designated bathrooms for ‘colour’ people who produced incredible work to help NASA make it into space. Yet their work was not made public for more than four decades. Their story is of profound significance of what African American women achieved in science and maths on a grand scale.
Katherine Johnson was a mathematician who helped calculate correct trajectories for NASA, in order for them to accomplish safe and successful missions to space. She worked as a ‘computer’ analysing data working as a aerospace technologist. She calculated the trajectory for the 5 May 1961 space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. When NASA began using electronic computers to calculate trajectories for John Glenn’s orbit around the earth, she was assigned by officials to verify the trajectories. Her calculations were faster than the computer. She also worked on the trajectories of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon. She has been honoured with many awards throughout the years notably the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Dorothy Vaughan considered a ‘human computer’ was a mathematician and a self made computer programmer. She was the first African American woman to become a staff supervisor at NASA. She prepared herself for machine computers by teaching herself how to use them and then teaching other women the programming language of FORTRAN.
Mary Jackson was a mathematician and an aerospace engineer, she took advanced engineering classes to become NASA’s first African American female engineer. She overcame great obstacles to achieve this, the classes were held in segregated schools and in order to join her white peers she required special permission from court.
These unbelievably intelligent, brave and trailblazing women have opened doors for female mathematicians, engineers and computer programmers, proving that science and maths is not just for boys. The inspirational story of these NASA heroines inspired a book called Hidden Figures, which was made into a very successful Hollywood movie that was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture. This story of African American women who helped NASA win the space race is a must read and watch.
Audrey Hepburn – style and grace icon
Audrey Hepburn remains the ultimate grace and style icon. She entered films at a time when other leading ladies were voluptuous, while she was waif thin. She represented a new type of beauty one not seen in Hollywood. She dressed according to her figure and introduced new fashion trends that Hollywood recognised as Audrey Hepburn style. Hepburn took personal interest in her onscreen attire working closely with Hubert de Givenchy the acclaimed designer. Her first major role in Roman Holiday released in 1953 catapulted her to stardom. She became the first woman to win an Oscar, Golden Globe and a BAFTA for best actress for a singular role. She is one of the few people to have achieved EGOT status by winning every major show-
She impressively spoke five languages; English, French, Italian, Spanish and Dutch. She became one of the first actors to join the UN and eventually retired from acting to work with the UN full time. Her off-screen work as an UN Ambassador earned her another role that of an activist. Hepburn dedicated her life to humanitarian causes. In 1991 she was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom for her humanitarian work and the honorary the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar posthumously in 1993.
Today she is one of the most celebrated and beloved actresses of all time. Her popularity continues to grow and her style and grace capitulated by new generations. Her tireless humanitarian efforts made her a real-life heroine. She quoted, ‘Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!’
Katharine Hepburn – She wore pants
Katharine Hepburn was a Hollywood actress famed for such films as The Philadelphia Story. She holds the record of most Oscars won by any actor with four, one of which was The Lion in Winter. She was rebellious and quite the trailblazer of her time, she did not conform to norms and lived her life by her own terms. She is arguably one of the greatest actors of all time who took on fierce and powerful roles and portrayed women as strong, intelligent and independent. She was free-spirited having been raised by progressive parents and with a strong mind, never shied away from being assertive or authoritative. She shunned society’s expectations and famously wore trousers before it was fashionable for women.
Fun fact: though she herself won four Oscars, she helped two actors win one each. Cate Blanchett won the Academy Award for supporting actress for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in the film The Aviator. Anthony Hopkins won the Academy Award for best actor for his role Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs. He channelled Hepburn’s speaking style for the role.
To find out more about inspiring women Richmond upon Thames Library Services has a range of e-resources you can access from the comfort of your home using your library card.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography contains over 60,000 biographies. It includes archives of thousands of entries as they originally appeared, as well as the most recent additions and updates.
Who’s Who and Who was Who brings you all the entries that appeared in every edition since 1897, the living as well as those who have died. You’ll also find information about an individual’s education and career as well as contact details for those who are still with us.
[Sonal, Library Assistant]