It’s International Women’s Day! And while every year we march closer to gender equality, we’ve still got some way to go. In honour of this very special day, SmartPig brings you eight amazing women that made history.
The most shocking part? All of these women are phenomenal female figures that the history books forgot. So, in honour of the day it’s time to wise up and spread the word.
The Liberator: Irena Sendler (1910 – 2008)
Thanks to Spielberg, it’s likely you’ve heard of Oskar Schindler, an incredible man who risked everything to save Jewish people working in his factories in a Nazi occupied Poland during WWII. But Schindler wasn’t alone in his act of brave defiance in the face of an oppressive Nazi regime. There are countless instances of women risking it all in order to resist the Nazis.
One of the most incredible examples is that of Irena Sendler, a woman who used her position as an administrator at the Warsaw Social Welfare Department to smuggle Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto. Between 1942 and 1943 she smuggled around 2500 children out using body bags to avoid detection and then helped relocate these children to non-Jewish families to be adopted.
Irena’s incredible story was only recently unearthed and put her in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
The Egyptian Activist (no, not Cleopatra): Huda Sha’arawi (1879 – 1947)
When Huda was born in 1879 Egypt was under British rule. In Egypt at this time, upper class families dedicated separate houses to protecting women called ‘harems’. Women of all religions stayed inside, remaining separate from men and wore veils in public. But Huda wanted to challenge the notion that women needed protecting.
She planned lectures to educate women on academic subjects rather than those like midwifery and even organised the first anti-British protest against colonial rule. When Egypt gained independence in 1922 it was expected things would go back to normal but Huda wasn’t down with that. After stepping off a train in Cairo she made the revolutionary decision to remove her veil in public. After this rebellious move, few Egyptian women continued to wear the veil.
The Ancient Scholar: Hypatia of Alexandria (370 – 415 CE)
So we know you’ve heard of Plato, Atistotle and Socrates. But there is one classical Greek luminary you may not have heard of. Hypatia of Alexandria was among the most influential scholars of the ancient world. Growing up, her forward-thinking father taught her mathematics, astronomy and philosophy with the aim of giving her the same opportunities as the men.
She became a famous teacher in Alexandria where students returned for years to discuss complex ideas about maths, life and the universe. But at this time the city was slowly becoming Christian and as an unmarried female pagan that had dedicated her life to study, she was seen as a threat. In March 415 CE she was attacked by a mob of Christian monks, dragged through the city naked and beaten to death. Her death was seen by many as the death of intellectualism and the arts in ancient Alexandria.
The Rebel Writer: George Sand aka. Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804 – 1876)
Amantile was a French novelist that wrote under the male pseudonym ‘George Sand’ to ensure she would get published. She was right to do so, as her first novel Indiana was a literary success in 1832.
She was a hugely prominent writer of her time and penned both political texts as well as highly successful literary ones. But her revolutionary defiance to the status quo was evident off the page too. She became famous for wearing men’s clothing and smoking tobacco in public –two things that were strictly prohibited for women at the time.
The Musical Maverick: Rose Marie McCoy (1922 – 2015)
There’s no doubt you’ve heard of the famous singers that performed some of the hits this musical wonder has written – but have you ever heard of African-American song star Rose Marie McCoy?
At the age of nineteen she moved from Arkansas to New York to break into the music business. She wrote hits for Elvis Presley, James Brown, Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis and her song ‘I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’ sung by Ike and Tina Turner earned a Grammy nomination.
In the 1960s she had her own office in the Brill Building, an amazing feat for a woman, let alone a black woman at that time. In total, she wrote around 850 songs and while you may not have heard of her, you’ve definitely heard of some of them.
The Actress who was an Electric Whizz: Hedy Lamarr (1914 – 2000)
Austrian-born American actress Hedy was a darling of Hollywood glamour during the Golden Age of cinema - what most forget is that she was also an inventor.
She worked alongside George Antheil to develop her idea of ‘frequency hopping’, which was designed to stop bugs on military radios. The US navy brushed off her patent, classified it and filed it away. That was until they later started developing technology from it with no credit given to her. Frequency hopping is the reason we have many modern technologies like WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS.
Luckily, a researcher unearthed the original patent and she received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Award shortly before her death in 2000 – but even today her estate has received zero money created by the multi-billon dollar industry.
The LGBTQ leader: Sylvia Rivera (1951 – 2002)
Puerto Rican Sylvia was a transgender gay rights activist who fought for the rights of LGBTQ+ people in New York during the 1960s. She was a South American woman that had spent much of her life homeless, which meant she was particularly interested in protecting trans people of colour and those living in poverty.
She is most well known for her active involvement in The Stonewall Riots of 1969, a revolutionary period for the gay rights movement. But she also co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries and STAR house, which assisted the homeless in the gay community, focusing especially on LGBTQ people of colour.
Her legacy has led to the creation of organisations like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project which works to provide legal services for those that can’t afford representation and helps guarantee a safe existence for transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming people.
The OG investigative journo: Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922)
Nelly Bly was an investigative journalist working in the US in the 19th century. Her undercover reporting work marked a ground-breaking turn in the nature of journalism. In 1887 she feigned insanity in order to be admitted to New York City’s notorious mental asylum at Blackwell’s Island. Once there she studied the asylum from within, only to release an expose on the treatment of patients.
She’s also known for her record-breaking trip around the world, inspired by Jules Veren’s fictional character Phileas Fogg. She completed the journey in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds – setting a new world record at the time!
These eight women are just some of the incredible female figures that we’ll be celebrating today. Let us know who your most inspiring woman in history is on Facebook