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Indira Ghandi, the first and only prime minister of India. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, deemed the "first lady" of track and field and one of the all-time greatest athletes in the heptathlon. These, and many other women, have changed history.
March is Women's History Month in the U.S., UK and Australia. While it began with a single day — International Women's Day on March 8 — it has been observed in some shape or form since 1911. It was officially commemorated by the United Nations in 1975 and signed into proclamation by President Jimmy Carter. As with Black History Month, organizers for Women's History Month wanted to ensure future generations will inherit an accurate account of the contributions of women throughout history. By highlighting women who have made a difference in history, it opens up that world of possibilities to young girls.
Following is a short list of notable women we found at Scholastic.com who have been an influence in history. There are many others we could add to the list. Who has inspired you?
Louisa May Alcott:
Author who produced the first literature for the mass market of juvenile girls in the 19th century. Her most popular, Little Women, was just one of 270 works that she published.
Susan B. Anthony:
The 19th century women’s movement’s most powerful organizer. Together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony fought for women’s right to vote. She was also very involved in the fight against slavery and the temperance campaign to limit the use of alcohol.
Clara Barton got involved with tending the needy when she treated injured Union soldiers on the battlefield during the Civil War. She later was the founder and first president of the American Red Cross.
First American woman awarded a medical degree by a college. Attended Geneva College in New York after she was rejected by all the major medical schools in the nation because of her sex. Elizabeth Blackwell later founded a women’s medical college to train other women physicians.
Pearl S. Buck:
With her novels about American and Asian culture, she became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Queen of Egypt and the last pharaoh. She was 17 or 18 when she became queen. Cleopatra was a shrewd politician who spoke nine languages. During her reign, Egypt became closely aligned with the Roman Empire.
This physicist was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize — she actually won it twice — and the first woman to earn a doctorate in Europe. Her investigations led to the discovery of radioactivity as well as the element radium.
The first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, she opened the skies to other women. In 1937 while attempting to become the first person to fly around the world, Earhart’s plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.
Mary Baker Eddy:
Only American woman to found a lasting American-based religion, the Church of Christ, Scientist. She worked successfully to solidify and increase the popularity of The Christian Scientist movement.
Queen of England when England became a major European power in politics, commerce, and the arts. Smart, brave, and determined to link herself to her country’s fortunes, she cultivated the loyalty of her people and united the country against enemies. During her reign — the "Elizabethan Age" — England changed from being poor and isolated to being among the most important nations in Europe, with a powerful navy.
Considered one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, Ella Fitzgerald was the winner of 12 Grammy Awards and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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As the leader of India, the world’s most populous democracy, Indira Gandhi became an influential figure for Indian women as well as for others around the world.
LaDonna Harris (born 1931)
Harris is the President and Founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity, a national multitribal organization devoted to developing the economic opportunities and resources of Indians. Raised by her grandparents with traditional Comanche values, Harris has been politically active all her life. She has crusaded for the rights of children and women and for the elimination of poverty and discrimination. http://www.nwhp.org/tlp/biographies/harris/harris_bio.html
A computing trailblazer, Grace Hopper invented one of the first easy-to-use computer languages, which was a big advance in the field of computer programming.
A spokesperson for the rights of workers, Dolores Huerta helped create the National Farm Workers Association. Among other issues, she has fought for the right to a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, paid holidays, and retirement benefits for farm workers.
Shirley Jackson (born 1946)
Jackson is the former head of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where she reaffirmed the agency's commitment to public health and safety. She is the first female African American to receive a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Jackson's outstanding leadership in education, science, and public policy demonstrates the capability of women to be leaders in the field of science and technology.
Joan of Arc:
A national hero in France, Joan of Arc led the resistance to the English invasion of France in the Hundred Years War. She believed that it was her divine mission to free her country from the English. She cut her hair, dressed in a man's uniform, and led French troops to victory in the battle of Orleans in 1429.
She dominated the Olympic sport of heptathlon, a series of six demanding events. Joyner-Kersee won the Olympic gold medal for the United States in 1988 and1992, and set the world record. She was also the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the long jump.
This Mexican artist survived childhood polio and later a bus accident that led to seven operations. She began painting to escape her lifelong pain and is considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
A childhood disease left her deaf, mute, and blind. Helen Keller became an expert author and lecturer, educating nationally on behalf of others with similar disabilities.
Maya Lin (born 1960)
As the designer of two of America's most powerful monuments — The Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., Lin has distinguished herself as the most acclaimed site-specific architect of contemporary America. Because of her concern for environmental issues, she uses recycled, living, or natural materials and focuses on sustainable and site-sensitive design solutions.
This anthropologist who studied Samoan culture caused society to rethink how it looked at adolescence.
Founder of a religious group of nuns in Calcutta, India, Mother Theresa devoted her life to aiding sick and poor people throughout the world.
Ellen Ochoa (born 1958)
As an astronaut and researcher of advanced optical information systems, Ochoa flew her first shuttle mission in 1993 as a Mission Specialist with the Discovery crew, conducting atmospheric and solar studies in order to better understand the effect of solar activity on the Earth's climate and environment. The first Hispanic woman to be named an astronaut, she has logged over 500 hours in space. Read an interview conducted by Scholastic students with Ellen Ochoa.
Sandra Day O’Connor:
As the first woman appointed to the position of U.S. Supreme Court justice, she carved a place for women at all levels of the legal profession.
When she refused to give up her seat to a white person on a crowded bus, Rosa Parks set in motion the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a cornerstone of the civil rights movement. She has since been a strong advocate for human rights issues.
Esther Peterson (1906-1997)
Peterson worked throughout her life for consumer protection, improved labor conditions for American workers, and equal opportunity for American women. Because of her work, working women have a legal right to equal pay and food labels by law must now list exact amounts of ingredients and the nutritional content. She served four U.S. Presidents in various capacities, including Assistant Secretary of Labor, and Vice-Chair of the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.http://www.nwhp.org/tlp/biographies/peterson/peterson_bio.html
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Dr. Sally Ride:
The first American woman in space was also the youngest American astronaut ever to orbit Earth.
As a champion of human rights, she strove to further women’s causes as well as the causes of black people, poor people, and the unemployed.
She was the interpreter for Lewis and Clark during the U.S. government’s first exploration of the Northwest. Sacagawea’s role was to help negotiate safe and peaceful passages through tribal lands.
Founder of the birth control movement in the United States, Sanger also started the organization that became the future Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
(circa 625 B.C.)
This Greek poet is considered one of the most important in Western civilization. In addition to creating the "Sapphic stanza," which consists of three long lines of poetry coupled with one short line, she also invented an instrument — the 21-string lyre.
Muriel F. Siebert:
Her advanced understanding of banking and finance led Muriel Siebert to the first seat owned by a woman on the New York Stock Exchange. She created the Siebert Philanthropic Program, which lets investors help charities in their own communities.
Lillian Smith (1897-1966)
Honored in 1956 by the women who organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Smith was one of the nation's strongest European-American voices to expose the vicious ways that racism destroys the human spirit. She used her stellar writing talent and class privilege to expose and challenge racism. Smith co-published the literary magazine South Today to help give voice to progressive black and white southern writers. http://www.nwhp.org/tlp/biographies/smith/smith_bio.html
This politician was the first woman in European history to be elected prime minister. Known for her conservative views, Margaret Thatcher was also the first British prime minister to win three consecutive terms in the 20th century.
This abolitionist was born a slave. She eventually became a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad — a system developed by a secret group of free blacks and sympathetic whites to help runaway slaves get to free northern states. Harriet Tubman led more than 300 slaves to freedom.
An actress and the host of a highly successful talk show, Oprah Winfrey has won several Emmy Awards. She has started her own TV production company and invested in media projects. She has also been a spokesperson for women's health and family issues and for the prevention of child abuse.
First woman to be nominated and campaign for the U.S. presidency. She was nominated by the Women's National Equal Rights Party. Woodhull and her sister were also the first two female stockbrokers on Wall Street.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias:
One of the greatest athletes of all time, Zaharias won track and field gold medals at the 1932 Olympics, played professional basketball, and was a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
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