I have some reluctance in embracing the above title – after all, you probably haven’t seen “Male Heroes You’ve Never Heard Of,” right?
As Gloria Steinem pointed out, “Whoever has power takes over the noun – and the norm – while the less powerful get an adjective.”
With that proviso, here’s my selection of just five women who I think deserve the hero title. They are ranked in particular order.
1. Virginia Wade
Photo credit: Alwyn Ladell
The Times of London’s headline on July 8 read: “Murray ends 77-year wait for British win.”
It was referring to the Wimbledon tennis tournament where on July 7, the Scottish Andy Murray became the first Brit to win the men’s single championships since Fred Perry won in 1936.
The Daily Mail chimed in: “Andy Murray ends 77 years of waiting for a British champion.”
Well, unless women count too.
Virginia Wade, a UK citizen from Bournemouth, in the southwest of England, won the women’s championship at Wimbledon 36 years ago, in 1977.
Actually, there have been four British women who have won Wimbledon since 1936: Dorothy Round Little in 1937, Angela Mortimer in 1961, Ann Hayden-Jones in 1969, and Wade in 1977.
As Chloe Angyal put it in a tweet, “Murray is indeed the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years unless you think women are people.”
2. Chiaki Mukai
Chiaki Mukai is Japan’s first female astronaut, having made her first flight in July, 1994. For this feat she has received numerous awards, although her original training was as a doctor.
Born in Tatebayashi, in the Gunma Prefecture on May 6th, 1952, she moved to Toyko for school and eventually studied medicine at Keio University. She received her doctorate degree in medicine in 1977 and, after two residencies, returned to school to specialize in cardiovascular surgery.
Combining her passions for medicine and science, Mukai participated in several physiological experiments in zero gravity, which eventually led to her becoming the first Japanese woman in space.
She has received a plethora of awards, including: “Outstanding Service Award” from the Society of Japanese Women Scientists (1996), “Special Congressional Recognition” from the U.S. Congress (1995), “Prime Minister’s Special Citation for Contributions to Gender Equality” (1995), and “Outstanding Service Award” from the National Space Development Agency of Japan (1994 & 1992).
3. Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Photo Credit: Edgar Zuniga Jr.
An indigenous Guatemalan woman, of the K’iche’ ethnic group, Rigoberta Menchú Tum has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting indigenous rights in the country.
Born in 1959, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 “in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.”
Rigoberta Menchú grew up in a country marked by extreme violence. Several members of her own family, including her father and brother, were killed by the army, which was hunting down opponents of the regime.
She fled to Mexico in the early 1980s, where she came into contact with European groups that were working for human rights in Latin America. A peace agreement was signed in 1996, although Guatemala remains a country with a troubling human rights record. A UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, she ran for President of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011.
Find out my two final choices over on the next page:
4. Wilma Rudolph
Photo Credit: Seiya234
You may know this name and the fact that Rudolph was the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics, but are you aware of the enormous odds she was up against?
Wilma Rudolph was born in 1940 in Bethlehem, Tennessee, the twentieth of 22 children. Born with polio, she also suffered from pneumonia and scarlet fever as a young child, and wore a leg brace between the ages of five and 11. With predictions that she would never be able to walk properly, Rudolph nevertheless got involved in school sports by the time she was 13, and soon began winning track races.
At the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, her relay team won the bronze medal. Four years later, she set a world record for the 200 meter dash during the Olympic trials. Then during the Olympic games in Rome, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the 100 meter dash, the 200 meter dash and the 400 meter relay.
Wow! Starting off facing such formidable obstacles, Wilma Rudolph certainly achieved greatness and received numerous awards in recognition of her success, including the Black Sports Hall of Fame, the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
In 1993, she became the first recipient of President Clinton’s National Sports Award. She died of a brain tumor at the age of 54.
5. Maria Montessori
As a teacher myself, I had no hesitation in choosing Maria Montessori for this list. She was born in Rome, Italy in 1870 to an upper middle class family, and in 1896 she became Italy’s first female doctor. One can only imagine how persistent she had to be to achieve such a seemingly impossible goal.
After that she started working with disabled children but soon abandoned the traditional reading and reciting teaching methods, favoring the use of concrete objects. She revolutionized education by her belief that children learn best by doing and experiencing, and not by memorizing. When her students scored higher than the “regular” students on the same test, she knew she wanted to extend her approach to all children, and she opened a Casa dei Bambini in the slums of Rome.
Her influence on the education of young children has been enormous, not just in the numerous Montessori schools around the world, but for all preschool and kindergarten students.
Montessori died in 1952.
Of course there are plenty more female heroes — who would you like to see on this list?
Photo Credit: lewishamdreamer