This top ten was incredibly difficult to make. There are so many amazing women that we should be learning more about. Here are just a few women who should be getting far more attention. The information I am writing is also just a tidbit of their amazing lives. Please continue to research for yourself after you read this list!
- Billie Holiday– While known for her amazing voice Billie Holiday was a powerhouse in a multitude of ways. She sang how she wanted, what she wanted and when she wanted. This included “Strange Fruit:” a song about the lynchings in America which Holiday would continue to sing despite warnings, imprisonment and other punishments from Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner Henry Anslinger. Her music and legacy live on to inspire.
- Flossie Wong-Staal, PH.D.- The world lost this amazing woman in July of 2020. Born in China, Wong-Staal would travel to the United States in 1973 for work. She came at the perfect time to revolutionize the way the research community looked at cancer. She was also the first to clone HIV and to therefore determine the function of its genes. This led her to work on what would become the “drug cocktails” that help manage AIDS. She also worked on the biology necessary for the second generation blood test for HIV.
- Mary W. Jackson– NASA would not be what it is today without Mary W. Jackson. Jackson was aiming high even before she joined NASA. Jackson’s path lead her back to Virginia, where she took special math courses with her coworkers to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer. This was challenging as these classes were normally segregated. She got special permission to take the classes and later became an engineer who dramatically helped to shape NASA. Jackson is one of the three subjects of the blockbuster film Hidden Figures.
- Katherine Switzer– Training for a marathon is a lot of work, not only physically but also mentally: it is a mind game to push yourself and keep going. Switzer was a runner in a time when it thought that women couldn’t handle the challenges of running a marathon. She entered the Boston marathon in 1967 with her trainer and boyfriend to prove to herself that she could do it. While the race was underway, she was accosted by Jock Semple, one of directors of the race, who tried to rip off her numbers and physically force her to quit the race. Her boyfriend pushed Jock out of the way, and Switzer continued her run. She finished the race not knowing the effect this would have for the future of female runners.
- Harriet Tubman– Enslaved person, conductor of the underground railroad, organizer, and spy: Harriet Tubman helped to change the course of America. Tubman was born into slavery and bore the scares from it for her whole life, including a brain injury sustained when she refused to restrain an enslaved person so they could be beaten. Tubman was hit in the head by a weight and lived the rest of her life with seizures, severe headaches, and narcolepsy. Despite this brain injury she escaped slavery and conducted others to freedom,worked to organize abolitionists, and was the first woman to become a spy for the union. Tubman’s work contributed to the liberation of many enslaved persons.
- Doctor Ellen Ochoa– Ochoa has pushed the boundaries of NASA and has had many firsts within the organization. She was the first woman to go into space on the shuttle Discovery in 1993, and has since logged more than 1,000 hours in orbit! She was also the second female director of the Johnson Space Center and the first Hispanic director. Ochoa received NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, as well as the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award for senior executives in the federal government. She has won other awards, had schools named after her, and is the co-author of three patents.
- Sophia Duleep Singh– The women’s suffrage movement would not have been as successful as it was without the help and passion of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. Despite the fact that her country was a colony and her title was only in name, Singh used her privilege to help others: particularly British women who wanted the right to vote. She used her celebrity status to help the cause, selling newspapers, refusing to pay taxes so she could appear in court, and participating in the Black Friday March of 1910. Princess Sophia helped turn the tide for suffragettes in England, which added momentum to the American movement as well.
- Sylvia Rivera– Sylvia Rivera is an activist who dedicated her life to helping LGBTQIA+ persons and ensured that transgender persons would not be left behind by the movement. Rivera was kicked out of her home at age 11 and while homeless she was taken in by the drag queen community. Not only was she instrumental in the Stonewall Riots, but she also worked to create safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ persons, particularly transgender individuals. Rivera was once again at the forefront of the fight for transgender rights in the 1990s when she participated in the Pride parade in New York on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
- Toshiko Yuasa– The world of physics is incredibly lucky that Yuasa made it out of World War Two alive. Yuasa is the first female Japanese Physicist. She would teach in Japan until traveling to France for more opportunities as a woman in her field, writing and researching radioactivity. In 1945 she created the double-focusing spectrometer for the beta-ray spectrum. After returning to Japan she would continue to research and earn accolades for her work.
- Frida Kahlo– The world of art would have suffered without Frida Kahlo. After being seriously injured in a bus accident, Kahlo began to paint –mostly self portraits. She expressed many things in her art, including her struggles with mental illness, her cultural identity, her lovers of both sexes, and her struggles due to her disability. Kahlo would create vibrant paintings that made her an icon for multiple movements after her death. Kahlo was open about her disability and struggles with mental health while living her life to the fullest.
I hope that you will continue to research theses, and other, amazing women who have shaped the world we live in.
ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!!!