Thirty-one years ago, the United States Congress declared March as Women’s History Month. But honestly, it would take much longer than a month to share all the stories of women who’ve impacted history. We don’t need a special month to celebrate women’s impact and influence—it happens every day.
Thanks to advances in science and technology we have more time to explore and nurture our talents and interests. Thanks to social movements, new legislation, and continued progress, we have more opportunities.
Ladies, we have always had the ability and the power. It’s time we recognize it incorporate this knowledge into our lives.
“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” -Ayn
Women Who Influenced Our World
We are celebrating women’s impact and influence in history, culture, science & technology, art—and everything in between. From flying into space to breaking down social barriers, women have kicked butt since we were first put on this earth.
Here are some examples of women who’ve impacted and advanced everyone’s lives. They may not have gained notoriety, but that doesn’t take away from their accomplishments.
1. The founder of an international empire of beauty products
Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965)
Helena started by inventing the world’s first moisturizing cream and first beauty institute in 1902. She worked with the top scientists of her time to understand skin and to create high-quality products, focusing on clinical efficacy. Her empire was considered the elite beauty line until the early 1970s.
L’Oréal, who bought Helena Rubinstein in 1988, said that Helena gave, “a premium approach of beauty and made-to-measure skincare protocols; so that they [women] can take control of their beauty and their lives.”
Fun Fact: Helena was the oldest of eight girls and grew up in Poland, in Krakow’s Jewish ghetto. Also, she spoke Polish, Yiddish, French and English.
2. The first woman to go into space
Valentina Tereshkova (1937- present)
Born just north of Moscow, Russia, Valentina was the first woman in the world to go into space in 1963. Although five other Russian women trained with her for 18 months, she was the only one who made it through training. Later in life, Valentina received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace, as a spokeswoman for the Soviet Union.
Fun Fact: According to Space.com, Valentina volunteered and was accepted for the space expedition because she had parachuted over 126 times. Back then, to return to earth after you are being in space, astronauts had to parachute out of a capsule.
3. The first female wireless operator
Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944)
The Princess Noor Inayat Khan was raised in Britain and France but was still considered Indian royalty. Bilingual, she was recruited as an operator for Britain during WWII. According to BBC News, she was “the first female wireless operator sent to Nazi-occupied France during World War II.” She went by the code name “Madeleine.”
She was eventually captured by the Nazis and imprisoned for 10 months. Even though she was tortured continuously, she did not reveal any information. Later, they executed her.
Fun Fact: Noor Inayat Khan loved to play music and write stories. In 1939 her retellings of the “Twenty Jataka Tales”, a series traditional Indian children’s stories, was published.
4. The first woman to ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize
Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Marie, a physicist and chemist, is best known for being the first woman to ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1903. Her name was not originally recognized on the submission, and credit was only given to her husband. Thankfully, a member of the nominating committee spoke up and this was amended. Marie also pioneered the study of radioactivity and led the way for many women in science.
Fun Fact: Marie was the first women to receive a Ph.D. from a French University.
5. The first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics
Grace Hopper (1906-1992)
Grace was an American computer scientist, United States Navy Admiral, and mathematician. She studied and taught at Vassar College, and earned her masters and Ph.D. in mathematics—one of the first women to earn this specific degree. Though Grace accomplished a lot over the years, her most notable work is with computers.
In 1952, Grace and a team of researches created the first computer compiler for languages. (A compiler translates written instructions into code, so it can be read by computers). Grace was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was the first woman to receive the National Medal of Technology.
Fun Fact: After Grace passed, in 1997 a guided missile destroyer (commissioned by the Navy) was named after her—the USS Hopper. And, the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering of female technologists, was also created in her honor.
6. The Irish women who fought for peace and won the Nobel Peace Prize
Mairead Maguire (1944- present) and Betty Williams (1943- present)
In 1976, Betty witnessed the horrific murder of Mairead’s three nieces and nephews outside of a school in Belfast. Three days later, Mairead and Betty started the Community of Peace People. This group led peaceful protests and marches of thousands of people, sparking hope of unity and solidarity. They marched all over Northern Ireland and even in Trafalgar Square in London.
Together, they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. During one of the most volatile and violent times in Ireland’s history, these women stood up as a symbol for peace and unity.
Fun Fact: Betty was born to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, during a time of extreme conflict between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.
7. The woman who discovered the structure of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12
Dorothy Hodgkin (1920-1958)
By 16, Dorothy was interested in chemistry and using x-rays to analyze crystals. Later, she became a chemist and according to PBS, one of the most skilled crystallographers of her time, who “always chose projects that no one else thought quite possible.”
In 1946 she discovered penicillin’s structure, which helped manufacture semisynthetic penicillin. This was a major advance in science, because it allowed penicillin to be modified to treat more resistant infections. She also discovered the structure of insulin and vitamin B12.
Fun Fact: Dorothy’s discovery on the structure of vitamin B12 won her the Nobel prize in 1964.
8. The woman who documented the Great Depression and changed photojournalism
Dorthea Lange (1895-1965)
Dorthea was an American documentary photographer and photo journalist during the Great Depression. Her pictures of emigrant farmers and the homeless greatly influenced journalist photography. According to Britannica, Dorthea was commissioned by the Farm Security Administration (FSA), to photograph and draw public attention to the poverty of rural life. One of her most well-known pieces is “Migrant Mother.” PBS said that this portrait is, “the best-known documentary photography of the 20th century and has become a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.”
Fun Fact: Some of Dorthea’s photographs hang in the Library of Congress.
Women Influencing the World Now
We haven’t stopped advancing science, technology, art and the world. According to the U.S. Department of Education, women will make up more than 56% of students on campuses nationwide. Also, an estimated 2.2 million less men will be enrolled in college this year. Here are examples of women kicking butt and influencing our world right now.
Only 6.4% of the Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs are female—Indra Nooyi is one of them.
Indra grew up in India and moved to the U.S. for advanced education at Yale University. Though her parents moved with her and she received financial aid, she struggled financially. Indra worked as an overnight receptionist just to make ends meet, and even wore her sari to interviews because she couldn’t afford a suit.
Now, Indra is CEO of the second largest beverage company in the world—PepsiCo. Since she joined the company in 1994, Indra has spearheaded major deals including the purchase of Tropicana orange-juice and Quaker Oats. When she was promoted to CFO in 2000, she was the highest-ranking Indian-born woman in corporate America.
Fun Fact: In college, Indra played the guitar in an all-female rock band. Sometimes, at company events, she’ll give a performance.
The Blissymbol Printer Inventor
Imagine revolutionizing the world as a 12-year-old? Rachel Zimmerman did just that by inventing the “Blissymbol Printer.” It started out as a project for a school science far but won an award at the World Exhibition of Achievement of Young Inventors.
The Blissymbol Printer is a software program using Blissymbol’s—symbols for people with disabilities like cerebral palsy—to help them communicate. It works by letting the user point to certain symbols on a board or page using a touchpad. The Blissymbol Printer takes the symbols and translates them in to a written language.
Fun Fact: Rachel now works for The Planetary Society in California teaching on space exploration.
Kenyan Runner, Olympian and Humanitarian
Even though as a child, growing up in Kenya, Tegla Loroupe’s dad told her running wasn’t “lady-like,” Tegla kept running. In 1994 she became the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon. Tegla has won three world half-marathon championships, and two bronze medals at the World Championships for the 10,000m. She even competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Tegla also started the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in 2003, which focuses on bringing together combatant tribes in Kenya. In Kenya, she is a symbol of speed and peace.
Fun Fact: Tegla has held multiple world records, and in 2006 was named a United Nations Ambassador of Sport.
Blogger, Survivor and Advocate for Girl’s Education Around the World
One of the youngest women on our list, Malala Yousafzai caught the world’s attention at 10 years old.
In 2007, the Taliban militants took control of Malala’s home in the Swat Valley and banned girls from going to school. They publicly punished—and sometimes executed—anyone who defied their orders. Malala secretly wrote into BBC under a code name, with a detailed account of what was happening. Her emails became an online BBC blog, which made international news.
The Pakistani army eventually came into the Swat Valley and forced out the Taliban in 2011. Malala, a known hero because of how she advocated for girls’ education, was able to go back to school. But in 2012 a Taliban member came to Malala’s school, asked for her by name, and shot her multiple times. But she survived.
After 3 months and multiple surgeries in the U.K., Malala returned to her new home in Birmingham and started school again.
Since then she has traveled all over, advocating for girl’s education, listening to stories, inspiring girls all over the world. Malala has also opened multiple schools and started the Malala Fund which aims to give girls all around the world education.
Tying It All Together
Ladies, when we’re motivated, there’s nothing we can’t do.These examples represent just a fraction of we can accomplish when we harness the power within each of us.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou