Below are just a few women from our past who need to be recognized today and every day:
Marie Curie, 1867 - 1934. The first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, as well as then receive a second. A chemist and physicist, known for her work in radioactivity. She unexpectedly didn’t decide to patent her radium-isolation process, so that later on, scientists would be able to continue research unscathed. She died at 66, from exposure to radiation from her work at field hospitals in World War II.
Marlene Dietrich, 1901 - 1992. German born, American actress and singer. Her career spanned from the 1910s - 1980s. Dietrich quickly became the highest paid actress of her time. During the war she was well-known for her work improving morale and direct humanitarian efforts on the front line. Her entire salary ($450,000) for her film, "Knight Without Armor", was donated to the fund she created in protecting Jewish Refugees from Germany. She received awards from the American Film Institute, and an Academy Award. Dietrich was known for being a bold spokeswomen for her thoughts on political senses, and generally testing the norms as a woman during her era.
Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014. American acclaimed poet and civil-rights activist prominently during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, depicting racism and sexual assault. Multiple attempts have been made to ban her work, but Angelou’s drive and consistency to challenge the autobiographical genre flourished. Her work encouraged the stray from writing norms, especially within the autobiographical genre. She played important roles in the Civil Rights movement alongside Martin Luther King. After meeting King, she organized the illustrious Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Spanning over 50 years, she received dozens of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and multiple Grammys.
Billie Holiday, 1915 - 1959. Innovator in jazz music, an American jazz and swing music singer with a career spanning 26 years. Holiday has had an extremely direct impact on jazz instrumentalists, taking a different perspective on tempo and manipulation of lyrics. She thrived within her way of improvising and using her powerful voice. Her subjectively most well-known piece, “Strange Fruit” described lynchings from a poem written by Abel Meeropol, and it specifically resonated with the death of her father, after he was denied medical attention from a collapsed lung by racial prejudice. "It reminds me of how Pop died, but I have to keep singing it, not only because people ask for it, but because twenty years after Pop died the things that killed him are still happening in the South," she wrote in her autobiography. Holiday said that she always wanted her voice to sound like an instrument and some of her influences were Louis Armstrong and the singer Bessie Smith. Her awards were all won posthumously, after her death in 1959.
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova, 1937 - . A Russian astronaut, was the youngest and first woman to travel to space, with a solo mission that took place in June 1963. She was an engineer and former cosmonaut, and remains the only woman who has ever embarked on a solo space mission.
Rosa Parks, 1913 - 2005. Perpetrated for sitting in front of a white man on the bus. Best known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, she inspired the bus boycott for a year following her arrest. Later, the case of Browder v Gayle persisted to win the law regarding bus segregation. She became an icon of resistance for racial segregation and worked with Martin Luther King, and Edgar Daniel Nixon.
Sylvia Plath, 1932 - 1963. An American novelist, poet, and short story writer who introduced the genre of confessional poetry. Plath’s work was featured in Harper’s, The Spectator, and The Times Literary Supplement after being short-listed multiple times prior. However, her most successful, was her collection, Ariel, featured posthumously in 1965, on which a majority of her reputation rests. The collection was focused on mental illness, a dark and brutal eluded autobiographical. Plath’s intuitively impactful and stray from the derived norm of other contemporaries of the time, continues to influence writers of today.
How would the women of today be treated? Would they even get the opportunity to challenge the norms associated with the time? Who would advocate for them?
Malala Yousafzai, 1997 - . A women’s / human rights activist, born in Pakistan, she has been an extremely impactful woman in the fight for all girls in Pakistan to receive an education. She created the Malala Fund in 2014, to help as many girls as she can, have a safe, and purposeful opportunity at an education. As well, in 2014, she received the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala graduated from Oxford this past spring of 2020, in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
Greta Thunberg, 2003 - . Swedish environmental activist who thoroughly challenges government representatives in the changes needed to deal with the climate crisis. By criticizing world leaders as bluntly as she has, Greta has not only placed her foot in the door, but slammed it there, demanding change and diverted drive. Her initial focus originated from a desire to change her parent’s ways of thinking involving their carbon footprint. After her address to the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student’s strikes began taking place all around the world. In 2019, she sailed to North America for the following UN Climate Action Summit, diverting her travel from plane to ship. Newspapers have coined her work as the “Greta Effect”, and she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three years consecutively.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) - New York’s Congresswoman, a third generation Bronxite, classifies herself as a democratic socialist, and has committed her work to serving the working class people, advocating for social, racial, classist, and environmental justice. At 31, AOC is the youngest woman to hold a position in Congress. She has been involved in calling attention to reports on COVID cases within nursing homes, supported the potential defunding and abolishing of ICE, focusing on the healthcare system, anti-poverty, and LGBTQ equality, to name a few. When attacked verbally by republican representative Ted Yoho, she responded “Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. [...] I am someone's daughter, too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho's disrespect on the floor of this House towards me on television. And I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men”.
Michelle Obama, 1964 - . Former first lady of The United States. She initially worked in Law, and following, in public service. She has influenced and created many programs such as Let Girls Learn, Let's Move, the Reach Higher Initiative, to name a few. Notably putting her efforts into military families, and progression towards ending childhood obesity. Check out her book from 2018, Becoming.
Joan Didion, 1934 - . American writer prominently during the 1960s - 1970s, who spoke on counterculture and many of the realities as a woman. Didion focused on the subtext of political and social rhetoric, and wrote the first initial mainstream piece suggesting the innocence of the Central Park Five. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, as well as numerous others. Her work incorporates New Journalism, which adheres to a factual based form of writing through narrative storytelling. Her book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, follows this rhetoric, it simultaneously exhausted the factual information of the 1960s, with the very digestible culture and societal ways in a personal sense.
Billie Jean King, 1943 - . Defeats champion male tennis opponent, Bobby Riggs, in ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match. Her win was a milestone in the acceptance of women’s tennis. In 1973, Riggs suggested that women’s tennis was inarguably inferior to men’s tennis, stating he could beat any of the top women players. King won in three straight sets by a landslide. Following the match, a commentator suggested that King’s performance wasn’t as impeccable as it could have been.