Why you should care
Because the proof you need that history isn’t made just by old, white men is here.
Women today have no shortage of real-life bad-ass chicks to look up to. From the tough physicality of Ronda Rousey to the boardroom savvy of Sheryl Sandberg, women everywhere are succeeding with aplomb. But guess what – women have been doing amazing things for ages. The only difference is that we get to know about it them now in real-time due because of instantaneous digital connections. If you look back throughout history, you can find plenty of women who fought the Nazis, broke down color barriers and at one point, even served briefly as president of the United States. Their names may have been lost to history, but once you read their stories, you’ll never forget about them.
Women’s rights have come a long way since suffragettes secured the right to vote at the turn of the 20th century and became role models for scores thereafter. But who were the women those pioneers looked up to themselves? 14th century Venetian Christine de Pizan is one of the principal figures. Writing at a time when few women barely even knew how to read, de Pizan challenged stereotypes by writing about women’s right to education as well as their important role as peacemakers in wartime. From Medieval Europe to Malala Yousafzai, who nearly died insisting on her right to education, de Pizan’s words carry forward. Read more here.
In the early 1970s, Beverly Johnson left her home in Buffalo for New York with dreams of becoming a lawyer. But life got in the way and Johnson became the world-famous model who broke one of fashion’s biggest color barriers when she graced the cover of Vogue magazine in 1974. That cover opened the door for other Black models in the ’70s and ’80s and redefined American beauty for the next generation. Helped in part by the civil activism of the period and an open-minded Vogue editor, Johnson’s historic cover was, in her words, “like being the Jackie Robinson of modeling.” Read more here.
2016 may be the year the United States inaugurates its first official female president but it won’t be the first time a woman is calling the shots from the Oval Office. That honor already went to Edith Wilson, Woodrow Woodrow’s second wife, who stepped into her husband’s political shoes after her he suffered a debilitating stroke. How did this even happen? It turns out the there was no chain of command in place, allowing the Vice President to refuse the office. So in stepped Edith, a woman with just two years of formal education, and began to issue executive orders on his behalf, including in support of the crucial Treaty of Versailles. At the time, some critics lambasted the “petticoat presidency,” while others praised Edith for her devotion to her husband and her stabilizing influence on postwar America. Read more here.
Joan Clarke was a brilliant logic and mathematics talent whose name would have been lost to history if it wasn’t for World War II. She worked alongside Alan Turing to find the solution that cracked the Enigma Nazi code that broke open the war in the Allies’ favor, giving them direct operational access to over-the-air communications. More people now know the name of Joan Clarke after Keira Knightley portrayed her in last-year’s movie The Imitation Game but her amazing life and contribution to peace around the world deserves more than 120 minutes of our time. Read more here.
When her philandering husband went missing in the mid-1700s, Hannah Snell didn’t sit back and wait for his return. Instead, she disguised herself as a man and set off for Portsmouth to join a regiment of marines that would go off to a great number of adventures. At one point, Snell’s regiment made its way to India, where she fought valiantly, killing French soldiers and getting wounded in the process. When she returned home to England, she found her husband had been executed for murder, finally allowing Snell to reveal her true identity. The respect she earned among her peers during wartime helped in her petition the military to receive a pension – which it gladly provided to her. Read more here.
Mercedes Benz is a name known the world over but do you know anything at all about Bertha Benz? She is the woman who provided the moral and financial support to her husband, Carl Benz, to be able to invent the motorcar in the late 1800s. So fierce was Bertha’s belief in the ingenuity and potential of her husband’s idea that Bertha asked her parents to receive her inheritance in advance so it could be invested in Carl’s workshop. She was also quite brave. In 1888 Bertha took the untested vehicle on a 65-mile trip, without her husband’s knowledge, to set the first long-distance car drive in history that proved the Benz Patent-Motorwagen Nummer 1 worked as expected. Read more here