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Tuesday
Mar082011

Celebrating Remarkable Women: 100 years of International Women's Day

March is Women’s History Month, and today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.  As a woman who majored in history in college and a strong believer in “girl power”, I love an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of women.  We’re doing a better job, overall, of appreciating the contributions of both genders, but the stories of women who changed history can really provide remarkable examples to both boys and girls and make all of us realize that nothing gets done without everyone, regardless of gender, pulling on the same oar.  We all remember the contributions of the “big names” like Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth I and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Personally, I’m a fan of the lesser-known women whose contributions were equally great but less publicly visible.  Some of my favorites are (limited to women in the U.S and in no particular order):

  1. Victoria Woodhull:  A suffragette and the first woman to operate a brokerage firm, she was decades, if not a century, ahead of her time.
  2. Kitty Greene:  The wife of Revolutionary War leader, Nathanael Greene, she later influenced and supported cotton gin inventor Eli Whitney.
  3. Abigail Adams:  An important figure in the early development of the United States via her unwavering support of and influence over her husband, John Adams, her efforts to improve educational opportunities for girls and her raising John Quincy Adams among her other children. (Read more about Abigail Adams in Cokie Robert's book Founding Mothers and My Dearest Friend, edited by Margaret Hogan)
  4. Sarah Porter and Sophia Smith:  Sarah Porter founded a secondary school for girls in 1843 which has become a leader in the education of girls (and my alma mater).  Sophia Smith founded Smith College, a world leader in college level education for women.
  5. Clara Barton:  Nurse, Civil War figure and founder of the American Red Cross.
  6. Lillian Gilbreth:  Pioneer in the field of industrial engineering.  Mother of 12 children whose contributions to the world encompassed both her professional life and her personal life. Watch the movie, "Cheaper by the Dozen", to see a humorous account of her life with her husband and her children.
  7. Alice Hamilton:  First female professor at Harvard Medical School and the founder of the field of occupational medicine, making important contributions to the early days of workers’ compensation laws (and educated by Sarah Porter).
  8. Sally Ride:  First American woman to be sent into space.
  9. Elizabeth Cady Stanton:  Credited with beginning the Women's Suffrage movement, along with Susan B. Anthony.
  10. Rachel Carson.  Marine biologist and nature writer, considered a founder of the contemporary environmental movement.  Her book, Silent Spring drew attention to the dangers of many pesticides and led to the banning of DDT.

A glance at the lives of these and so many other remarkable women, both living and dead, reminds us of the incredible power we all possess.  So many of these women didn’t set out to be great women of history.  They simply followed their hearts and did what they believed needed to be done for their families and their communities.  They remind us that our everyday actions can make a difference, even when they are taken on a modest scale.  When we believe that change is possible and take small steps toward better choices, we can become the heroes in our own lives.  What remarkable steps will you make in a most unremarkable way today?

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