Sydney Milewski //
It’s March, which means it’s Women’s History Month! Women have made countless contributions to society since the start of civilization. But, most of us have never been taught about extraordinary women and their roles in making history. I want to highlight women from a variety of backgrounds who have made history not just because they were the first woman to do something but the first PERSON to do something. Because they were revolutionary, talented, fearless, brilliant, caring, dedicated, ambitious, and so much more, they made impacts on the world that everyone should know about.
Here’s a list of some badass women:
In 1818, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, which is widely considered the first sci-fi novel ever written. It debuted as a new novel from an anonymous author, and many people believed that it was written by her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley because he had written the introduction. But Mary was the mind behind this masterpiece, beginning to write it at only 18 years old when Lord Byron suggested everyone in the group should try to write their own horror story.
Margaret E. Knight
In 1871, Margaret E. Knight designed a machine that could create flat-bottomed paper bags, which quickly became popular and are still used today. A man attempted to steal her idea so he could patent it for himself, but she took him to court for patent interference and won. Margaret moved on to patent her machine; additionally inventing over 100 different machines and patenting 20 of them.
Marie Curie was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes and is still the only person to be honored for accomplishments in two separate sciences. She discovered radioactivity and her first Nobel Prize was in Physics in 1903, which she received along with her husband Pierre and Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity. In 1911, she earned the Nobel Prize of Chemistry for her discovery of radium and polonium. As a pioneer championing the use of radiation in medicine, she inspired her daughters to study science. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Curie’s daughter Irène Joliot-Curie won a Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1935 with her husband for their work on the synthesis of new radioactive elements.
Hedy Lamarr was one of the most glamorous actresses in the black and white film era. Yet, she chose to become an engineer during World War II to help with the war efforts because she also had exceptional talents in math and engineering. With musician and composer George Antheil, she developed the idea of “frequency hopping,” which could encrypt torpedo control signals. They patented frequency hopping in 1942 and this invention provided the foundation for GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, all of which our society depends on today.
In 1952, Rosalind Franklin took Photo 51, the first photo of DNA. While you most likely remember learning in a science class about how Watson and Crick discovered that DNA’s structure is a double helix, you probably haven’t heard that it was Franklin’s photo that allowed them to identify that. Her picture was shared without her permission and she was only mentioned in a footnote in Watson and Crick’s paper about DNA. Because she died from cancer before they won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work, she never received the credit she deserved.
As a child, Katherine Johnson was so gifted she started high school at age 10 and college at age 15, graduating with honors at age 18. Throughout her career at NASA, Katherine Johnson made many great contributions to space travel. Notably, in 1962 she helped calculate orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in John Glenn’s orbit of planet Earth. Going through the preflight checklist, John Glenn asked Johnson to run through the numbers and equations by hand before he would take flight, saying “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.” It was a successful mission and in 1969, she calculated the trajectories of Neil Armstrong’s mission to the moon on Apollo 11. Until the movie Hidden Figures came out in 2016, most Americans had never even heard of Katherine Johnson’s groundbreaking work.
The moon landing is a huge source of pride for Americans, yet it almost didn’t happen due to system malfunctions. In 1961, Margaret Hamilton was hired to lead the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory to develop the Apollo program’s guidance system. After bringing her 4-year-old daughter to work and letting her play astronaut, her daughter hit keys and crashed the system during a moon landing simulation. Hamilton realized something unexpected like this could happen during the actual moon landing and thus convinced her superiors to let her add more fail-safe software to the mission. Minutes before landing, the computers onboard overloaded. Hamilton’s code came to the rescue so that the astronauts could land on the moon!
Marie Van Brittan Brown
Wanting to feel safer at home because she was a nurse who worked odd hours and lived in crime-ridden Queens, Marie Van Brittan Brown worked with her husband Albert to create a security system, patented in 1969. By being able to see and communicate with the person at her door, she knew she would feel less vulnerable and more empowered. They created a system of four peepholes and a movable camera that connected wirelessly to a monitor in their bedroom. A two-way microphone allowed conversation with someone outside, and buttons could sound an alarm or remotely unlock the door. This system laid the groundwork for all modern home security systems.
Patsy Takemoto Mink
Patsy Takemoto Mink co-authored and helped pass Title IX in 1972 with Birch Bayh, which is a landmark piece of federal civil rights legislation that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education and activities in institutions that receive federal financial assistance. For example, because of her efforts, I was able to play on my high school’s girl’s soccer team, which had the same funding and caliber as the boy’s team. Only two years after passing Title IX, Mink facilitated the passage of the Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA), which provided federal funding for practical resources such as training and materials to enable women and girls to succeed in the educational system. So many of us have Patsy Takemoto Mink to thank for her contribution to our equal opportunities in school.
An extremely accomplished athlete, Serena Williams has made history many times. While she claims a lot of “mosts” as a woman, she also has a few mosts for any tennis athlete, which is an impressive accomplishment. In the 2017 Australian Open, Serena defeated her sister Venus in the final. With that win, she could claim 23 career Grand Slam singles titles, the most Slams in the open era for any tennis player. In 2020, Serena beat Maria Sakkari, marking her 100th win at the historic Arthur Ashe Stadium. She is the first tennis player to ever record 100 wins at the venue, with the next closest number of wins being 77 by Roger Federer.
American sprinter Allyson Felix has earned 9 Olympic medals, the most of any American woman in track and field. She is a phenomenal athlete and started her remarkable career by winning a silver medal at age 18 at the 2004 Athens Olympics. After setting multiple world records on her own and with relay teams, she made history as a track athlete outright in 2019. In 2019, Felix broke the record for most gold medals of any athlete at the track and field world championship by winning her 12th and 13th gold medals. Not only is this a historical accomplishment, she did it 10 months after giving birth to her daughter. Girl power!
At the 2021 Grammy Award Show, Beyoncé beat the record for most Grammy awards won, earning 28 awards. Not only is she known as an icon in the music industry, she has made history in more ways than one. Beyoncé became the first artist to be nominated in four different genres in the same year at the 2017 Grammys; Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Rock Performance, and Best Urban Contemporary Album. On top of that, she is the first artist to have her first six albums debut at No. 1. Honestly, what can’t she do?
There are so many incredible women who have made history, and I only selected a few stories to showcase. I would love to hear more stories in the comments, so leave a comment below!