By Mandi Johnson
Throughout history, there have been women who made great advancements to society, but they’re often forgotten or go unacknowledged for years. Everyone remembers the men in history. The Napoleons, George Washington, Henry VIII, Einstein and Tesla – but women, too, have done amazing things worthy of immortalization.
Known for her poetry and being called the 10th muse by the Greek philosopher Plato, Sappho is an often overlooked artist from the Isle of Lesbos. Poets.org claim that Sappho is one of the greatest lyric poets to have ever written, though little of her work remains today.
“The greatest problem for Sappho studies is that there’s so little Sappho to study,” wrote Daniel Mendelsohn in a 2015 article for The New Yorker. “It would be hard to think of another poet whose status is so disproportionate to the size of her surviving body of work.”
Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt, is a well-known historical figure, but she was not the only female pharaoh to preside over the desert. Coming before Cleopatra were Sobeknefru and Hatshepsut. Following her reign, Cleopatra’s stepson tried to erase her from the annals of history but failed.
“Knowing that her power grab was highly controversial, Hatshepsut fought to defend its legitimacy, pointing to her royal lineage and claiming that her father had appointed her his successor,” said History.com. “She sought to reinvent her image, and in statues and paintings of that time, she ordered that she be portrayed as a male pharaoh, with a beard and large muscles. In other images, however, she appeared in traditional female regalia.”
Other famous queens have ruled throughout history, including Mary, Queen of Scots, her cousin Queen Elizabeth I and the current, longest-presiding British Monarch in history Queen Elizabeth II. But though women may have been in power a spattering of times throughout history, outside of the throne, most were still treated as second-class citizens – enter the suffragettes.
“I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion. I would rather be a rebel than a slave,” said well-known American suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.
Mary Wollstonecraft penned her book “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” in 1792 – one of the earliest writings regarding equality of men and women. A century later, Susan B. Anthony fought for female equality across the sea in the United States of America.
Today, many women still fight for equality – nationally, women are paid an average of 20 percent less than their male counterparts doing the same job. In countries throughout the world, women like Malala Yousafzai – who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for attending school and defending women’s and girls’ rights to education – are fighting just to earn an education.
“I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’ This is the cause to which I want to devote my life,” Yousafzai wrote in her memoir.
Other women of color have stood up to sexism and racism over the years and still fight for equality to this day — even equality with fellow white women. Historical women of color heroines include Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, who were born into slavery but escaped and became an advocate for the freedom of their fellow enslaved men, women and children. Then there was Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus so that a white man could sit down.
Women have also led the way in literary and scientific endeavors over the years. Take, for example, the creator of the science fiction genre – the daughter of the aforementioned Wollstonecraft. Mary Shelley originally published her groundbreaking novel “Frankenstein” 200 years ago without her name attached for fear she would lose her children.
“It was considered such a masculine novel that when published anonymously (as was common for works written by women), many people attributed it to her husband,” wrote Harriet Hall in a 2018 article for Independent.
Then there were the women scientists, often unsung throughout history.
Rosalind Franklin discovered the double helix of DNA – though Francis Crick and James Watson were ultimately awarded credit and a Nobel Prize for the discovery. Franklin was not included in the award for her contribution because the Nobel Committee does not grant prizes posthumously.
A scientist who did win, not one, but two Nobel Prizes was Marie Curie.
“She made groundbreaking work in the field of Radioactivity, enabling radioactive isotopes to be isolated for the first time. During the First World War, Curie developed the practical use of X-Rays; she also discovered two new elements, polonium and radium,” wrote a biography of Curie on Biographyonline.net. “Her pioneering scientific work was made more remarkable because of the discrimination which existed against women in science at the time.”
With both brains and beauty, actress Hedy Lamarr paved the way for modern wireless technology such as WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth. According to Forbes, however, her estate has not received a dime of compensation for her invaluable technological advancement.
“Although her ideas were at first ignored, the technology (which she and Antheil patented in 1942) was later used by the military — during the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, for example — and more recently, it has been employed in wireless technologies like cell phones,” wrote Melinda Wenner in a 2008 Scientific American article. “It was eventually recognized in 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation honored Lamarr with a special Pioneer Award and she became the first woman to receive the Invention Convention’s BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award.”
Leading the fight for climate change is a 16-year-old Swedish activist named Greta Thunberg. She’s encouraging the youth of the world to stand up to the adults and urge them to make changes to save the world from the harmful effects of global climate change.
“People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth,” Thunberg said to world leaders at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. “How dare you!”
This is just a handful of the many women who have done great things to make the world a better place. Throughout history and into the future, women have been and will continue to be, leaders and achievers.