Every March we celebrate Women’s History Month and more often than not hear over and over again about the grand accomplishments of women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Earhart or Rosa Parks. While these women undoubtedly deserve recognition, this year let’s applaud the accomplishments of ten women you’ve probably never heard of, but who are amazing and accomplished women nonetheless.
1. Alice Paul
When you think of women getting the right to vote, you immediately think of Susan B. Anthony, right? Well, actually it was the work of Alice Paul and her group of suffragists which led to the passage of the 19th amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. These fearless and dedicated women held demonstrations for seven consecutive years ultimately escalating with picketing outside the White House. This led to the arrest of over 100 women, including Paul, who were then imprisoned, went on a hunger strike, and were forced fed. You can see their heroic story in the movie Iron Jawed Angels (which I highly recommend!).
2. Sarah Breedlove
Who’s responsible for building the largest black-owned business in America? That would be Sarah Breedlove, more commonly known as Madam C. J. Walker who developed hugely successful beauty and hair products exclusively for Black women, making her the first self-made millionaire woman of any race in America. Walker, born in Louisiana to recently freed slaves, rose above poverty and illiteracy to build an empire and today is one of America’s most significant businesswomen.
3. Amalie Noether
Albert Einstein may have thought she was a genius, but you’ve probably never heard of Amalie Noether. An incredible mathematician, Einstein called her the most “significant” and “creative” female mathematician of all time. Noether developed a theorem that united the concepts of symmetry in nature and the universal laws of conservation, which many say is as important as Einstein’s theory of relativity.
4. Mildred Kenner & Mary Davidson
Next time Aunt Flo’s in town you can thank sisters Mildred Kenner and Mary Davidson for inventing the sanitary belt in 1956. Kenner went on to invent a moisture-resistant pocket for the belt a few years later and the toilet tissue holder as well.
5. Claudette Colvin
Rosa Parks is certainly a household name when it comes to the civil rights movement, but did you know that nine months before Parks refused to give up her seat 15-year-old Claudette Colvin did the very same thing? In fact, it was Colvin’s U.S. Supreme Court case that ordered the desegregation of Alabama buses. Of the incident Colvin says, “It felt like Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on another shoulder.”
6. Maria Mitchell
The next time you take a look at the beautiful starry sky give thanks to Maria Mitchell, the United State’s first woman astronomer. Mitchell was primarily self-educated and started her own school at the age of seventeen. After studying the sky with her father she discovered a comet and was awarded a gold medal by the king of Denmark who named the comet “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”
7. Sarah Goode
If you like the show Shark Tank then you’ll love Sarah Goode, the first African American woman to receive a U.S. patent. Goode invented a folding cabinet bed that could be used as a desk when folded up and then used as a bed when taken down. Perhaps Goode’s invention was inspiration for today’s Murphy bed.
8. Helen Holmes
Stopping runaway trains, catching train robbers, fight scenes on moving train cars, motorcycle stunts. These were all the specialty of Helen Holmes who many consider Hollywood’s first female action hero. In 1915 the 20-year-old actress starred in a series of 46 short films titled The Hazards of Helen in which she performed many of these incredible stunts herself.
9. Geraldine Hoff Doyle
We can do it! While almost anyone can pick-out the iconic Rosie the Riveter, it was actually Geraldine Hoff Doyle who inspired the woman pictured proudly in the poster. In 1942 the 17-year-old took a job as a metal presser at a factory near Detroit where she was pictured by a photographer who came in to shoot images of women helping the war effort. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Doyle recognized herself in the poster while thumbing through a magazine.
10. Lavonne “Pepper“ Paire-Davis
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again (and again) – A League of Their Own is one of my favorite movies of all time! The lead character, Dottie Hinson, was actually inspired by Lavonne Paire-Davis who played as a catcher and shortstop for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Unlike the fictional Dottie, Davis went on to play for ten seasons. About the experience Davis says: “I know what it’s like for your dream to come true, mine did. Baseball was the thing I had the most fun doing. It was like breathing….[I couldn't] honestly tell you I knew the history we were making back then. I can tell you we knew we were doing something special.”
Do you have any other fascinating women to add to our list? Please share in the comments below!
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Photo Credit: AlicePaulCollection