When it comes to women in history, their accomplishments and work are often erased or re-written in order to celebrate men. I mean, I heard about Neil Armstrong through all of my elementary school days, but never about Margaret Hamilton, the computer programmer whose codes basically saved the mission. I knew about the Wright brothers and their foray into aviation, but never heard about Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female pilot. Oskar Schindler? Knew him, but not Sophie Scholl. Basically, there are notable women kids aren't learning about in schools, and it needs to change.
These 15 women don't have entire lesson plans centered around their accomplishments and their groundbreaking work, but they should. They are the epitome of bravery, of perseverance, and of honor. It's hard enough to jump into a field like science or aviation and make a name for yourself, but when you're fighting against an enormous gender barrier — and in many cases, a giant racial barrier — your work becomes even harder. So many people would give up, but not these 15 women — they deserve to be recognized this Women's History Month. Grab your kids and read their stories — you'll be surprised at what you learn.
You hear a lot about space exploration and the men inside the shuttles, but Mae Jemison deserves the same attention. As the first African-American female astronaut, she flew on board The Endeavour, noted NASA, for an eight-day cooperative mission between the United States and Japan, working on a bone cell research experiment during the mission. Before NASA, Dr. Jemison was the Area Peace Corps Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa. Basically, she’s a big deal.
Speaking of space, there would be no “first man on the moon” if it weren’t for Margaret Hamilton. According to the NASA website, Hamilton was a computer programmer that lead the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory contracted with NASA for the Apollo program. She basically helped create software engineering, and even came up with the term. Her hard work really showed itself when the software “overrode a command,” essentially saving the mission.
Bravery might as well be Anna Politkovskaya’s real name. As a journalist, Politkovskaya covered corruption, human rights, and war, and spent seven years covering the second Chechen war. Naturally, this didn’t bode well with Russian authorities, and according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, she was “threatened, jailed, forced into exile, and poisoned during her career.” Politkovskaya was killed in 2006 for her work and activism.
Kids love to hear about spies during wartime, but chances are they don’t hear about Nancy Wake in their history class. According to the website for the Australian War Memorial, Wake was born in New Zealand, but later moved to France, and became a major part of the French Resistance after visiting Vienna and Berlin in 1935 and seeing the horrors of nazism. She and her husband assisted in helping allied servicemen and Jewish refugees escape from France into neutral Spain. After spending some time in prison, Wake managed to escape to England where she worked in the French Section of the Special Operations Executive. Later, she helped to organize drops of equipment and arms for D-Day.
I mean, her name sounds pretty amazing all on its own, but when you learn that Ada Lovelace was basically the first computer programmer, she's even more incredible. Lovelace was a mathematician, according to Biography, and was taught math and science from tutors because of her mother's insistence. Talk about girl power. While working with inventor and mathematician Charles Baggage, Ada took notes on how codes could be created for Babbage's analytical engine so it could take on letters and symbols as well as numbers. She also "theorized a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping that computer programs use today," the article noted.
Investigative journalism is full of brave people, but none like Nellie Bly. Back in 1887, Bly went to New York World to pitch a story she wanted to write about the immigrant experience in America. The editor declined, but offered another suggestion — she could do a story on an infamous New York mental hospital, noted the website for the National Women's History Museum. Bly went for it, faking a mental illness so she could get inside for 10 days and report what was really happening. It was one of the first instances of investigative journalism, and it was all thanks to her determination and perseverance.
Your kids have absolutely heard of Amelia Earhart, but Bessie Coleman and her work in aviation deserve recognition, too. According to the website for The National Aviation Hall of Fame, Coleman went all the way to France to find an aviation school that would accept her, and became the first licensed African-American civilian pilot in the world. She didn't take this accomplishment lightly either, and used her talent and skills to tour the country so she could raise money for an African-American flying school. She also made sure that when she was performing, the crowds were desegregated and all allowed to come in through the same gate, the website noted.
There are so many notable Native American women, but very few are talked about in history classes. Even worse, their stories are often romanticized to fulfill a white savior complex (hello, story of Pocahontas). But Molly Brant isn't talked about at all. According to the Britannica website, Molly — also known as Mary Brant — was a Native American leader from the Mohawk tribe, and ally to Great Britain during the American Revolution. She was a spy, and even supplied the British with ammunition. But more than that, she was able to bring the entire Iroquois nation into the British camp, likely saving many, many lives.
A woman of service and a woman instrumental in the invention of computers, Grace Hopper is absolutely a name kids should recognize. According to the website for the National Women's History Museum, Hopper earned a PhD in mathematics from Yale and taught at Vassar before resigning to join the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). When she became a Lieutenant and was assigned to the Bureau of Ordinance Computation Project, she and her team produced the Mark I, "an early prototype of the electronic computer," the website noted. Oh, and when you say a computer has a "bug"? That was Hopper's influence, too.
10Anna May Wong
Hollywood is still known for its underlying issues with racism, but when Anna May Wong was an actress, it was especially prevalent. Wong, a Chinese-American actress, faced tons of discrimination in Hollywood and was labeled as either "too American" for a role or, get this, "too Chinese" for a role, according to the website for Turner Classic Movies. In fact, she was passed up for an Asian role, and it was given to a white actress in Asian "makeup" to play. Wong was also frequently passed over for romantic roles because the law at the time forbade her from kissing a person of another race. Oy. But Wong was ahead of her time and glamour personified — she managed to find leading roles here in America, and achieved stardom in Europe.
11Marie M. Daly
Think of all the prominent leaders in science you hear about in school: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton. Sure, you've heard of Marie Curie, too, but she's maybe one woman compared to the plethora of men in science I could rattle off. You know who I never learned about? Marie M. Daly, the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in chemistry. This was in 1947, according to the Science History Institute, so Daly had to jump over both gender and racial discriminations. In her work, she focused on studies related to cholesterol, sugar, and proteins, but she also made it her mission to promote diversity in medical school and graduate science programs.
12Patsy Takemoto Mink
The past few elections in the United States have yielded a more diverse group of representatives than ever before, but honestly, you could say a lot of it started with Patsy Takemoto Mink. In the 60s, Mink had to fight against opposition from seemingly everybody, including the Democratic party, to secure a seat as one of Hawaii's At-Large Representatives, and to become the first woman of color elected to congress. Later, she earned a seat on the Committee on Education and Labor, and worked hard to introduce education acts like the first childcare bill and legislation establishing bilingual education, student loans, special education, professional sabbaticals for teachers, and Head Start, according to the History, Arts & Archives website from the United States House of Representatives.
I feel like my entire eighth grade history class was focused on the Holocaust, which is absolutely necessary, but I never once heard of Sophie Scholl. According to the website for the Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, Scholl was part of a resistance movement against the Nazi party, and along with her brother Hans and a group of friends, Scholl helped to distribute leaflets calling "for the active opposition of the German people to Nazi oppression and tyranny." In 1943, Scholl, her brother, and their friend Christoph Probst were found distributing the leaflets and taken into Gestapo custody. On Feb. 22, 1943, they were beheaded for their act in the resistance. Scholl is quoted as saying, "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did," when they faced the judge in court.
Hopefully soon, textbooks will be full of paragraphs about Tammy Duckworth and the work she has accomplished. Duckworth is the U.S. Senator for Illinois, but before that she was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom and a Purple Heart recipient, according to her website. While serving, she lost both of her legs and partial use of her right arm, but she's never let it hold her back. During her time as a member of the House, she worked to pass bills supporting breastfeeding mothers, and as Director of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs, she helped to establish the first 24/7 crisis hotline for veterans in the country.
Another politician I hope receives the recognition she deserves in future textbooks, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is shattering all of the glass ceilings. According to her page on the United States Congress website, Ocasio-Cortez is the congresswoman representing the 14th district of New York, and her win of the seat was huge. It was a major upset for her to take the nomination from the 10-term incumbent congressman, and she is the youngest woman to ever serve in the United States Congress at just 29. Her activism is an inspiration to all, and her tireless work to fund health care, free public college, and guaranteed family leave proves she's fighting for everyone.