It’s no secret that history has been written from a male perspective. The patriarchal historical narrative champions men often leaving women on the sidelines. However, throughout history, women have achieved greatness and worked tirelessly to make a difference in the world. We at The Broadcast are no strangers to celebrating strong women, so we wanted to share a collection of remarkable women in history that your average textbook likely overlooked. Read on to learn about the writer of the first modern novel to the first woman to run for president (nope, not Hillary!) to the woman who founded Iraq, and more. Enjoy!
Murasaki Shikibu (973 – 1014)
As a young woman in her native Japan, she learned Chinese and traveled with her father, a low-ranking nobleman of the ruling Fujiwara family, on official government duties. In her travels, Shikibu was selected to wait on Empress Soshi as a tutor and court writer because of her impressive grasp of poetry and knowledge of the Chinese language. What you need to understand about the court at this time was that Heian-kyo (Kyoto today) was like a mix of Hollywood and the Hunger Games capital: opulent, aristocratic, and extremely cutthroat. One fashion mix-up would send humiliating shockwaves through the entire royal community. During her adult life, Shikibu penned 128 poems. Her masterpiece, The Tale of Genji, is a commentary on the frivolous lifestyle of the royal court as told through the eyes of Genji, a fictitious prince. The best part? Scholars consider this the world’s first modern novel.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1653)
Apprenticing with her father, Gentileschi grew up painting in the style of Caravaggio, but quickly discovered her own artistic style. Her first major work (presented at the age of 17 — brava btw), “Susanna and the Elders”, shows a demure, sexualized Suzanna being pursued by two unrelenting suitors, following the story in the Book of Daniel. However, X-rays of the painting reveal that the original portrait of Susanna has her screaming in anger and wielding a knife, ready to defend herself. A survivor of rape at age 18, Gentileschi was subjected to a tortuous gynecological exam to confirm her testimony, and had her rapist convicted — a true feat in sixteenth century Italy. While her more famous work is quite violent (see “Judith slaying Holofernes” — hailed as a vengeful response against her rapist), Gentileschi’s work created a stir both then and now.
Victoria Woodhull (1838 – 1927)
Long before Hillary Clinton, there was Victoria Woodhull: the first woman to run for president of the United States in 1876. She ran on a platform of “free-love,” which advocated for women’s rights, especially the ability to “marry, divorce, and bear children without government interference.” She bluntly criticized the hypocrisies of marriage, where men were allowed to be unfaithful, but women who divorced their husbands were forever ostracized. Take that, patriarchy! Beyond running for president, Woodhull was also the first female stockbroker, divorced her drunk and abusive husband (quite the scandal), published a radical newspaper that included the first English edition of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and was the first woman to testify before a congressional committee to advocate for women’s suffrage.
Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926)
Bell was a British archaeologist, writer, and photographer, who traveled extensively in the Middle East in the early 1900s. During WWI, she worked with T. E. Lawrence (yes, Lawrence of Arabia) and British military intelligence in Cairo to form alliances between British forces and Arab tribes. After Turkish troops were driven out of present-day Iraq in 1918, Bell worked with British officials to find a new king for Iraq to create a new constitutional monarchy. Sensitive to the rich history and culture of the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis in the Middle East, she advocated for founding a new country based on mutual respect between the major tribal groups rather than dividing the country among the tribes. She worked with King Faisal during his transition to power, founded the National Museum of Iraq and the Iraq National Library & Archive, and helped write Iraq’s constitution. Wielding this much power and influence as a woman was unprecedented, placing Bell in an incredibly unique position in global history. Various historians identify her as the woman who founded Iraq.
Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992)
US Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was a top contributor to key software development programs that paved the way for modern computing. Having earned her PhD in mathematics, she didn’t hesitate in joining the Naval Reserve during WWII, where she was assigned to the Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard. There she worked on the Mark I computer, an electromechanical computer, where she learned to program. After the war she transferred to Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, where she continually challenged the view that computers were nothing but giant calculators (whereas she characterized them as symbol manipulators). Her team worked on developing compilers which processed programming language and turned it into code that computers’ processing cores could understand. One compiler she wrote, FLOW-MATIC, was the predecessor of COBOL, a programming language still used in businesses today.
Clare Hollingworth (1911 – )
Clare Hollingworth had an extremely accomplished career as a war correspondent reporting for the UK during World War II and later in Vietnam, Algeria, Palestine, and China. Stationed in Warsaw in the summer of 1939, she borrowed a diplomat’s car and snuck up to the German border where she witnessed hundreds of German tanks preparing for war. The Daily Telegraph ran the headline the next day and by the end of the week, Germany invaded Poland. Hollingworth got the journalism scoop of the century: the start of World War II. During the war, she won notoriety by working with refugees, sneaking up to the front lines, and once crawling under dozens of male journalists fighting over one telephone and elbowing them out the way to ensure that her story was the first one to reach British newspapers.
Dorothy Height (1912 – 2010)
Dorothy Height, an unsung hero of the civil-rights movement, was fiercely committed to social justice and equality. After attending NYU, she remained in NYC, working as a social worker before joining the Harlem YWCA. There she directed the racial integration of all YWCA centers, and established the YWCA’s Center for Racial Justice. She served as the president of the NCNW (National Council of Negro Women) for over forty years, worked on on the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership as a founding leader with the “Big Six” of the Civil Rights Movement. She helped Martin Luther King Jr. organize the March on Washington, organized workshops to facilitate discussions between women of different races and religions, and helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus. Called the “godmother of the Civil Rights Movement” by President Barack Obama, Height worked tirelessly to end racial segregation, injustice, and adamantly fought for both women’s and civil rights during her extensive career.
The lesson of the day? Women are total bad-asses. Think we missed someone? Comment below and tell us their story!