An A-Z Of Amazing Women
is for Ada
Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron and his mathematics loving wife, Annabella Milbanke who later became known as the ‘Enchantress of Numbers’. Fearing that she would develop her father’s tempestuous, poetic tendencies, Ada was brought up by her mother under a strictly mathematical and scientific regime. As a child, she was fascinated by machines, and built her own, fuelled by the new knowledge of the Industrial Revolution. She died at the young age of 36, but her published article on a dreamt up ‘Analytical Engine’ detailed one of the first ever computer programmes and inspired Alan Turing’s work on the first ever modern computer during the Second World War, theorising the process known as ‘looping’ today. The U.S. Department of Defence even named a newly developed computer language after Ada in the 1980s.
is for Benazir
Benazir Bhutto became the first ever female head of an Islamic government when she was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988. She married a wealthy businessman when she was young, but refused to let him influence her character. She was a vocal opponent of gender-selective abortions and fought to create a country where the birth of a girl would be just as welcome as the birth of a boy. One of her main policies was ensuring the empowerment of women, which she defined as the right to education, to have choices in life, to be independent, to have a career, to participate in business and rise to the highest levels in politics. She was nicknamed the ‘Iron Lady’ and re-elected in 1993. However, she was forced to flee to Dubai years later on false corruption charges, but when these were dropped in 2007, she was assassinated upon her return to Pakistan.
is for Claudette
Claudette Colvin was a pioneer of the African-American Civil Rights movement who dreamt of being President one day. 9 months before Rosa Parks resisted bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, 15 year old Claudette had done the very same, and became the first person ever arrested for doing so. She was also one of the five plaintiffs used by Civil Rights lawyers in the federal court case that finally ended bus segregation in Alabama. However, when it was revealed she had become pregnant, young and unmarried, the NAACP decided not to publicise her brave acts of defiance, instead deciding to wait for someone less controversial to carry it out. She was branded as a troublemaker by the community, and forced to drop out of college. She moved to New York with her newborn son and older sister to become a nurse.
is for Daphne
Daphne Du Maurier was an English author whose books became popular in the 1930s and 1940s. They often addressed issues of female identity and their complicated relationship with men. Although often set in bygone eras, the characters in her novels seem to reflect her own personal struggles. A mistress of suspense in her writing, Du Maurier was depicted as frosty and cold in real life, a recluse who refused to give public interviews. Her most famous novel, Rebecca, she called a ‘study in jealousy’ and it’s been theorised that both female characters represent the different sides of herself. She struggled with the confines of her own traditional marriage, and settled in Cornwall, where she practised her love for sailing. She was a tomboy, and despite infidelities, and rumoured affairs with other women, she remained a family woman throughout the rest of her life.
is for Eva
Eva Peron was one of the most influential women in Argentinian history. Still admired by many, the first ever female President of the country claimed that women of her generation owed a debt to Eva for her example of passion. She met Juan Peron, who would later become President, in the 1940s, and they married soon after. He allowed her to sit in on intimate political meetings, and observe as much information as possible. She was most loved for her charitable works, setting up her own foundation after being outcast by others for her impoverished background. Her charity secured millions of dollars, and gave jobs to tens of thousands of people. She was rumoured to have worked 20 hours everyday with the organisation, many of which were set aside meet with the sick and poor. She was also incredibly influential in securing women’s right to vote and founded country’s the first female political party.
is for Frida
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist, who is perhaps most well-known for her self-portraits. Frida’s art is particularly loved by those of indigenous backgrounds and feminists for it’s obvious influences of Amerindian culture and the female experience. She originally began studying medicine, but had to abandon this after a serious bus accident. Her poor health meant that she was often isolated from others, but she began communicating with artist Diego Rivera, asking for advice. She would later marry him and describe his paintings as “okay for a boy”. Their marriage was turbulent, both had tempers and numerous affairs with both men and women; Kahlo had relationships with some of the most influential people of the time, including Josephine Baker and Leon Trotsky, who lived with the couple during his exile.
is for Gloria
Gloria Steinem is a journalist and activist, who became a spokeswoman for the American feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s after publishing an article “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation”. After having an abortion in London aged just 22, Gloria became a representative of the movement for reproductive freedom, co-founding the feminist magazine Ms. in 1972. She also helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus and encouraged the resurrection of Wonder-Woman, which resulted in the restoration of the comic-book character’s powers, and costume. She was also an activist for many other issues, being a stark opponent of the Gulf War, and was arrested for protesting South African apartheid in 1984. In the 1970s, she voiced support of many issues that are still being discussed today, such as same-sex marriage, transsexual rights and government action against FGM and circumcision.
is for Hedy
Hedy Lamarr began her career as an German/ Austrian actress, but fled to Paris, and later Hollywood, after appearing in a controversial sexual scene that depicted the female orgasm in 1933, and to escape her husband, a munitions manufacturer who worked for the Nazis. Her career as an inventor began long before the war; she is credited with creating an improved traffic stop-light and a less than successful tablet intended to make a carbonated drink when dropped into water. She is best known, however, for her wartime co-creation of a spread-spectrum and frequency-hopping system which would later be used, with much success, to control torpedoes. This technology would be more recently used in Wi-Fi, CDMA, and Bluetooth technology. Married six times before her death, aged 86, Lamarr later abandoned her Hollywood life to focus on her family and passion for science.
is for Indira
Indira Gandhi was the second longest serving Prime Minister of India, and the only woman to hold the office. Her father had been the first Prime Minister of Independent India, and she had served, unofficially, as his personal assistant, and later as his Chief of Staff and President of the Congress. She was elected twice, for 1966 and until her assassination in 1984. She enshrined equal pay into the Indian constitution. She was known for her ruthlessness and unprecedented commitment to the centralisation of power. After a series of violent acts against some Pakistani people in the 1970s, Indira opened India’s doors to them and led the ‘Green Revolution’ that addressed chronic food shortages. She was assassinated by one of her most trusted bodyguards in retaliation for her brutality during the Sikh separatist movement. In a 2001 poll, she was voted as India’s greatest Prime Minister.
is for Jane
Jane Addams was a philanthropist, women’s rights and anti-war activist who also co-founded one of the first settlements -Chicago’s Hull House- for European Immigrants in the United States. Known well in her time as a social reformer, pacifist and feminist, Addams served as the first female President of both the National Conference of Social Work and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, established the National Federation of settlements, and was a co-winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize. She was also deeply committed to education, serving on Chicago’s Board of Education and chairing it’s school management committee. As a peace activist, she travelled all around the globe, attending conferences at The Hague during WW1 before her Nobel Peace Prize win.
is for Katharine
Katharine Hepburn was one of the 20th Century’s first feminist pop culture icons. Much more comfortable in slacks and trouser suits than the fashionable dresses of the time, she became a symbol of refusing to conform. One story that allegedly took place when her studio attempted to force her to wear skirts paints Hepburn as parading around in her underwear until they gave her back her usual uniform. She often refused to wear make-up, too. Known for her beauty, strength and wit, her strong personality was often questioned by those at the time, so Hepburn often avoided media attention. She attended one of the Seven Sister’s Colleges and was raised under a fairly feminist upbringing before moving to Hollywood, where she acted in various films with feminist themes, such as Adam’s Rib and Little Women.
is for Laverne
Another award-winning actress, Laverne Cox was the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category, as well as the first to produce and appear on her own show. She is best known for her role in Orange Is The New Black, a TV show about a women’s prison, but is also an incredibly influential LGBT activist, often speaking and writing about transgender experiences and rights. Laverne knew she was transgender since elementary school, but by 6th grade she felt so ashamed that she tried to end her life. Since then, her main aim has been challenging traditional gender expectations. After an interview with Katie Couric, in which Cox highlighted the discrimination against trans people, Laverne became the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of TIME magazine.
is for Malala
Just five years before she became the youngest winner of, and first Pakistani to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai began her rise to prominence by publishing an anonymous diary about life under the Taliban rule in North-West Pakistan. Her psuedonymn, Gul Makai, was derived from the heroine of an old local folk tale. For speaking out, and refusing to abandon her education, she was shot in the head by Taliban militants in 2012, but survived, and recovered in the UK where she resumed school. Since then, she has written a best selling book and set up a charity committed to providing girls around the world with proper education, even confronting Western politicians personally and trying to convince them into action. Malala has also had a documentary filmed about her life, won the International Children’s Peace Prize and the National Peace Award from Pakistan.
is for Nellie
Nellie Bly was a Pennsylvania journalist who began writing for the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1885. Two years later, she moved to New York City to work with the New York World, where she found her big break. Posing as a mental patient, she led an expose on Blackwell Island, revealing the appalling way inmates were treated. She lived on the island for 10 days, where she was surprised at how easy it was to convince doctors that you were crazy. The report shed light on physical abuse, poor health conditions and neglect, and prompted a large scale investigation into the institution. Three years later she was sent on a 72 day trip around the world. In the start of her journalistic career, she constantly provided fiery responses to the sexist assumptions of her male counterparts. Many of her articles focused on the negative consequences of sexist ideologies, but it was for her investigative reporting that she would become renowned.
is for Oprah
Whilst most people have heard the name ‘Oprah Winfrey’, not nearly enough know why she is so amazing. Born in Mississippi, she had a troubled childhood and was sexually abused by male relatives and friends of her mother. At 18, she moved to Nashville to live with her father as soon as she could and enrolled in University. 5 years later, she began hosting her own TV show ‘People Are Talking’ which reached 100,000 more viewers than her male counterparts. She gained national notoriety after starring in Spielberg’s adaption of Alice Walker’s novel ‘The Colour Purple’. A year later she debuted the Oprah Winfrey Show, reaching an audience of 10 million on 120 different channels. Out of the $125 million that the show grossed in its first year, she received $30 million, but then took control of the show herself. She veered away from tabloid topics, and pushed many new authors into the light with her Book Club segment. She is also a vehement activist, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
is for Pearl
Pearl S. Buck was a prolific author, civil rights activist, Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Born in West Virginia, she published her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, in 1930. It was her next novel that earned her a Pulitzer Prize, and a few years later she would become the first female American Nobel Laureate. Her parents were committed to missionary work in China, and didn’t flee until after the Boxer Rebellion. After its culmination, she attended boarding school in Shanghai instead of the usual village they stayed in. A few years later, she moved back to America to study Philosophy, where she performed so well that she was offered a role as Professor. Most of her writing was set in China and explored Chinese culture. Buck was an avid humanitarian until her death, often working to protect Asian Americans from racism and improve their living conditions under the ‘Pearl. S. Buck Foundation’, whilst also setting up the adoption agency ‘Welcome House’.
is for Queen Bessie
Bessie Coleman was an American aviator, and the first female pilot of African-American descent, as well as the first to hold an international pilot license. Born in Texas to a sharecropping family with thirteen other children, Bessie had to walk four miles everyday to attend her segregated, one-room school. She loved to read and was mathematically gifted. Despite this, she would have to leave for weeks at a time in order to help her family during the cotton harvest. When her father, who was of Cherokee origin, left the family in 1901, Bessie also decided to pack up and enrol in Agricultural university but was forced to drop out because she didn’t have enough funding. Aged 23, she moved to Chicago instead, where she heard stories of WWI pilots, but found it impossible to find someone who would train her. A local newspaper funded her to study abroad in France. She spent most of her career performing at impressive airshows, and died in an aeroplane accident aged 34.
is for Ruth
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the second woman to be appointed as a United States Supreme Court Justice, and has been an advocate and protector of women’s rights all throughout her career. Ruth’s mother was an incredible influence in her life, she was especially touched by her constant selflessness and after her death, Ruth went on to study at Cornell and Harvard, whilst balancing the role of becoming a mother herself. Out of the 500 law students in her class, she was one of only eight women. She became Columbia Law School’s first female, tenured professor and served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. She was appointed to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton where she favours equal rights for women, workers and the separation of church and state. One of her most notable dissents was in the Bush Vs. Gore case where she omitted the usual word ‘respectfully’ from her statement.
is for Shirin
Shirin Ebadi was the 2003 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Iranian lawyer and women’s rights activist. Born into a normal Muslim family, they decided to move to the Capital city, Tehran, when she was just one years old. It was here that she was educated and trained as a lawyer. She began serving as a judge whilst studying for her PHD in the late 1960s. 6 years later, she became the first woman in the history of Iran to be appointed President of the bench in the Tehran City Court. However, she was forced to resign four years later when women were banned from serving in law and was unable to practise again until 1992. During this time, she taught human rights courses at the city’s university, focusing particularly on women and children. Some of her most highly publicised cases include representing the mother of a girl who was raped and killed under her father’s custody, families of serial-murder victims, and the mother of a murdered photo-journalist.
is for Tegla
Tegla Loroupe is a Kenyan athlete, long distance runner and an activist for women’s rights. She holds the world record for three different marathons, as well as the world champion for the half-marathon. She has won marathons in cities like London, Boston, Berlin and Hong Kong and was the first African woman to win the New York marathon. Born into the Pokot tribe, from a polygamous father, she spent her childhood tending to cattle and looking after her siblings. She became the United Nations ambassador for Sport in 2006, and also represents UNICEF and International Association of Athletics Federations. That year she also travelled with George Clooney, on behalf of Oxfam to condemn the violence in Darfur. She has sponsored peace marathons in Kenya, Uganda and Sudan to battle the constant warfare. Six different tribes competed with over 2,000 warriors.
is for Ursula
Ursula K. Le Guin is a children’s books author behind the Earthsea series. Although she also writes poetry and essays, most of her writing falls within the fantasy and science fiction genres which often explore issues of politics, gender, religion and sexuality. She began receiving nationwide recognition after her novel ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ was published in 1970, and coupled with her next novel, made her the first author to win both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel, twice for the two same books. Along with several other authors, she co-founded the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts but resigned from the Author’s Guild in 2009 in protest over their dealings with google to begin digitising books. She has won innumerable awards for her work, such as the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, awards from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
Virginia Apgar was a pioneer in the fields of anaesthesiology and teratology who also contributed considerably to neonatology. Perhaps her best known contribution to science is the Apgar Score, which quickly assesses the health of newborn babies immediately after birth to determine if they need medical attention. In New York, she studied zoology, physiology and chemistry during the early 1930s. When discouraged from pursuing a career in surgery by Allen Whipple, the chairman of surgery at her university, she aptly ignored his advice and became a certified anaesthesiologist in 1937. In 1949, she became the first ever woman to become a full professor at CUCPS. Whilst there she began doing research at the Sloane Hospital for Women, and her invention of the Apgar test saved millions of young lives. She was an outspoken advocate for vaccination, spoke to hundreds of audiences nationwide and claimed that women were liberated “the moment they leave the womb”.
is for Wangari
Wangari Maathi grew up in a small village, her father was a tenant farmer at a time when Kenya was still a British Colony. Against usual expectations at the time, Wangari’s family decided to send her to school when she was eight years old. Little did they know that, a few years later, she would become the first ever woman to earn a doctorate in both East and Central Africa. She received a scholarship to study in America, where she was inspired the anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements popular at the time. She later became the first woman to chair a University department in the country. One of her biggest worries was about the environment and the stark devastation of Kenyan forests, prompting her to launch the Green Belt Movement that helped reforest the country and gave thousands of Kenyan women jobs and income. She was beaten and arrested several times for her political views, but was elected to Parliament in 2002, winning the Nobel Peace Prize just a year later.
is for Xing
Jin Xing is one of the first and most recognisable transgender women in China. A ballerina, modern dancer, choreographer, actress and owner of a Shanghai dance company, Jin became one of China’s most fascinating celebrities. At 43 years old, she holds an impressive career. Once a Chinese Army Officer, she is now one of TV’s most in-demand stars. Despite living in such a conservative country, Jin has been very open about her gender-reassignment surgery and has worked with some of China’s most important LGBT activists. Her former military training, she claims, has worked to her advantage, as she manages to balance an incredibly busy career, activism, and a family life with three small children. She’s also known as a tough talk-show host, calling out a sexist presenter who berated his wife for speaking out against his violence during their marriage.
is for Yoani
Yoani Sanchez is a Cuban blogger who has brought international attention to life under its current government. She grew up in a very affluent Cuba, when they still had large aid arriving from the Soviet Union and her portrayal of life today is very critical. The fall of the Soviet Union coincided with her University education, creating a very Public education system that Yoani resented. She moved to Switzerland in 2002 instead, becoming interested in Computer Science. She did finally decide to return to Cuba, setting up a newspaper ‘Contodos’ that advocated freedom of expression, and bypasses Cuba’s censorship laws by emailing blog entries to foreign friends. Her blog is incredibly popular and has been translated into 17 different languages. In 2008, she was named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people, and has been praised in speeches by U.S. President Barrack Obama for her empowerment of Cuban people.
Zora Neale Hurston was an American author whose works explored folklore and anthropology. She published four novels, and over fifty short stories, plays and essays. The most celebrated of which being the 1937 novel ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’. When she wasn’t writing, Zora was also a civil rights activist who fought for the rights of African Americans. Born in Alabama, her writing was influenced by the traditional folklore from the Deep South, the Caribbean and Latin America, all of which she had studied at various universities. The daughter of two former slaves, she had to provide the money for her education herself and managed to land a scholarship to study anthropology in the 1920s, before moving to Harlem, New York. Whilst writing, she travelled the world, visiting countries such as Haiti and Jamaica where she studied voodoo. Despite her success, she struggled financially after being falsely accused of molesting a ten year old boy, despite being able to prove she was in another country at the time. After criticising the idea of segregation, she found it even harder to get published, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Florida.