This article was first published in the book, Resourceful Woman. It was then republished by Herizons, in Canada.
Debora Hill and Sandra Brandenburg
The majority of teachers today are women. Indeed, women, as both mothers and teachers, form the primary influence on
children during their formative years. They also influence the course of history. In the traditional teaching of history, however, men are featured as historymakers, almost to the exclusion of women. In fact, it might seem to a child-particularly a female child-that in the past, our world was populated by an overwhelming majority of men.
While women had a harder time making a mark on history simply because society did not encourage it, many more did so than appear in classical textbooks. Women today would like to rectify this error in historical fact. They would like to learn about the contributions that women made. They would also like to pass this knowledge on to the next generation.
Parents and educator alike are concerned, and questions abound. If history remains dominated by a white, male viewpoint, how much can children learn about other cultures, and about the half of their own culture that is not male? Just how male is their education? And how male was our own?
One group attempting to change the way educators look at history is The National Women's History Project. This organization has come a long way from its humble beginnings 14 years ago as a Sonoma State University history project entitled "We the Women: Advocates for Social Change." In the process, it has amassed a wealth of documentation. Here, from the archives, are a few minibiographies to help launch any family or classroom exploration of women in history.
Amy Johnson (1903-1941)
This British pilot was one of the most famous solo flyers in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1930, she became the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia. In the early years of World War II, she worked for Air Transport ferrying planes until she disappeared over the Thames Estuary.
Shirley Chisholm (1924)
The first black US Congresswoman, Chisholm was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Barbados. She took a master's degree at Columbia University and was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1964. In 1969, she was elected to Congress, and three years later, she ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination. Her long-term goal is racial and gender equality.
Harriet Tubmall (1820?-1913)
One of the most famous leaders in the fight to abolish slavery in the United States, this woman was born a slave. She married John Tubman, a "free Negro," in 1844 and escaped from the South in 1850. For the next 10 years, she worked as a conductor on the 50q-mile-long Underground Railroad leading from the southern states to Canada. Tubmall was so influential in assisting runaway slaves to freedom that a reward of $40,000 was posted for her capture.
During the Civil War, she dressed in union uniform, and in 1863, armed with a rifle, she assisted Colonel Montgomery in freeing 700 slaves at the Combahee River near Waterboro, South Carolina.
Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910)
A reformer and abolitionist, Howe wrote the song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." She also wrote for the antislavery newspaper Commonwealth, which was edited by her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe. For 50 years, she traveled the United States, speaking out on the rights of women and the oppressed.
Josephine Butler (1828-1906)
In defense of "fallen womell"-a courageous stance to take in the Victorian era-Butler campaigned vigorously against the discriminatory Contagious Diseases Act in England, an act that was finally repealed in 1986. She also led a demonstration against the proposed Criminal Law Amendment Bill, which would have lowered the age of consent for girls, and done nothing to stop the notorious "white slave"traffic. At her instigation, W. T. Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, published an account describing his purchase of a 12 year-old girl for £5-which ensured defeat of the bill.
Larissa Latyllina (1934)
A Russian gymnast, Latyllina won 24 Olympic, World, and European gold medals. In addition to her record-setting nine Olympic gold medals, she won five silver medals and four bronze medals. Not only was she the only gymnast ever to win medals in every entered event of two Olympics Games (1956 and 1960), but she gave birth to two children during her gymnastic career.
Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952)
Kollontai was instrumental in the Russian underground before the 1914 revolution. Afterward, she became an official in Lenin's government, then an ambassador for the
USSR, and eventually a student of economics in Zurich. In 1905, she ~ returned to the USSR, joined the revolutionary forces, and became a spokesperson for women's rights. During Stalin's rule, she spent 15 years outside the country as minister to Norway, minister to Mexico, and ambassador to Sweden.
Marian Anderson (1902)
Anderson was the first black solo singer to appear at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. In 1930, she made a successful tour of Europe, and in 1939, she was scheduled to sing in Washington, DC's Constitution Hall, but her show was blocked by the Daughters of the American Revolution because she was black. So instead, Eleanor Roosevelt organized a concert for her at the Lincoln Memorial, which drew 75,000 people. In 1949, Anderson won the Bok Award for Artistic Merit. She made her solo debut at the Met in 1955, as Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera.
Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)
American photographer Berenice Abbott, born in Springfield, Ohio, became famous for her photographs of New York in the 1930s. She apprenticed in the Paris studio of Man Ray from 1923 until 1925, and subsequently opened her own studio there, where she photographed numerous celebrities of the day. In the late 1950s, she developed a process for photographing the laws of physics, designing on her own much of the equipment needed for the task.
Loie Fuller (1862-1928)
Born to a farming family in Illinois, Tbe first woman admitted to practice law before the United States Supreme Court) Lockwood had to demand her diploma from President Ulysses s. Grant) nominal head of Tbe National University Law School.
Fuller is known as the founder of "free expression in dance." In 1892, she became famous for her choreography of the Serpentine Dance at the Folies-Bergere, where she whirled silks of many hues while colored lights played over her. In 1908, she founded a school of dance in Paris, where she taught Isadora Duncan. Art nouveau lamps and Lalique glass figures were designed around Fuller's dance movements, using her as a model.
Maria Montessori (1870-1952)
Montessori was the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor in Italy. As assistant doctor at a psychiatric clinic in Rome, she came to know numerous children with mental disabilities, and went on to develop a method for teaching them. The learning aids she invented, such as the now famous sandpaper alphabet, enabled many of the children to do as well in public examinations as "normal" children. Her successful and widely praised results propelled her to search for "the reasons which could keep back the healthy and happy children of the ordinary schools on so Iowa plane that they could be equalled in tests by my unfortunate pupils." Her methods are used today in Montessori schools throughout the world.
Annie Besant (1847-1933)
Born Annie Wood in London and married to Reverend Frank Besant in 1863, this woman recanted Christianity and began to speak publicly on the subject of religious doubt. In time, she left her husband and made her own living by writing, translating, and teaching the physical sciences. In 1872, she started writing for the newspaper The National Reformer; and five years later, she and the publisher, Charles Bradlaugh, were charged with obscenity for publishing a pamphlet on birth control. In 1887, Besant founded her own newspaper, The Link, and eventually settled in India, where she established a school for Hindu girls. In 1917, she chaired the Indian National Congress.
Belva Ann Lockwood (1830-1917)
The first woman admitted to practice law before the United States Supreme Court, Lockwood had to demand her diploma from President Ulysses S. Grant, nominal head of The National University Law School. Admitted to practice on September 24, 1873, she dedicated herself to defending the oppressed-especially women, children, and "people of color" (the terminology of her era). She fought a hard battle to remove the "legal disabilities" preventing women from engaging in the practice of law and, with the passage of Bill HR 1077 on February 12, 1879, achieved her goal.
Empress Tz'u-hsi (1835-1908)
The Empress Dowager effectively ruled China for the last half-century of the Manchu dynasty, resisting reforms until late in her career. White fleeing for her life during the Boxer rebellions of 1900, she saw for the first time the conditions of her people, and upon reentering Peking in company with her son the emperor and his wife, Tz'u-hsi instituted sweeping reforms. She authorized the intermarriage of Manchu and Chinese people, abolished the binding of feet, opened state schools to girls, and modernized the examination system. She also banned torture and suppressed the growing of opium. In addition, she "nationalized" the Customs Service, removing it from the hands of Europeans, and went so far as to introduce electric lighting. Nonetheless, the years of rebellion and looting by noblemen and foreigners had taken their toll. China went bankrupt and in 1911, the monarchy ended.
Shirley Smith (1927)
An Aborigine known as "soul mother" to thousands of people in New South Wales, Australia, Smith was born with epilepsy and educated at home by her grandfather. In 1970, with the help of 25 volunteer doctors, she set up a farm clinic for Aborigine alcoholics. The following year, she cofounded a legal service for the Aborigines and, due to her skill in bridging the racial gap, became a successful counselor in the prisons and corrective institutions of New South Wales.
unorthodox attitude, has been a controversial figure all her life. Fraser, along with three other female swimmers, was barred from competitive swimming in 1965 for indiscipline. The ban was lifted in 1968.
Katherine Dunham (1910)
After researching traditional African dances for her PhD in anthropology, Dunham formed her own dance company in Paris and went on to create the show Le Jazz Hot. In 1940, she established her reputation in New York after choreographing the film Cabin in the Sky. A highly intelligent and original choreographer of Afro-American dance, Dunham combined the rhythms and movements of the black world, spawning fusions of dance traditions that appear in many films and Broadway shows we know and love. When her company disbanded in the 1960s, she took a teaching position at the University of Southern Illinois.
Ellen Louise Axson Wilson (1914-1960)
First wife of President Woodrow Wilson, this First Lady devoted a great deal of her time in Washington to humanitarian causes-particularly education for mountain children and better housing for blacks. After visiting the slums in Washington, DC, she brought them to the attention of debutantes and congressmen alike.
Margaret Knight (1839-1914)
A mill worker, Knight developed a machine that could manufacture square-bottomed bags similar in style to today's widely used shopping bag. While her invention was being machined in iron for patenting, Charles F. Annan saw it and patented it as his own, Nevertheless, Knight proved to the satisfaction of the Patent Office examiners that she was the inventor of the machine. Although she went on to patent a number of other inventions, she made her fortune from the paperbag machine, in what was to become nothing short of a truly American rags-to-riches story.
Many of these women, along with numerous others, were the first of their gender to achieve success in their chosen fields when the odds were stacked against them. Indeed, being the first woman to achieve anything often meant battling obstacles that "first" men never faced. Such women deserve to be carried in our minds, and in our hearts.