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Sheroes You Should Know: Inspiring Stories for #WomensHistoryMonth

Marcella Vitulli

she·ro (pl. sheroes) : a woman regarded as a hero

Whether quietly spearheading some of the world's most groundbreaking scientific and medical research or not-so-quietly leading revolutions on the battlefield, our history is ripe with stories of ferocious, adventurous, enlightened, and persistent women.

In celebration of Women's History Month, we wanted to share some of these sheroic tales and introduce you to young women who are carrying the torch forward today.

This is a long post, so use the links below to browse the topics or jump to an area of interest:

Sheroes in Literature

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Zora Neale Hurston

While she may have had to lie about her age to get an education, Zora Neale Hurston went on to become one of the most prolific writers at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance.

 

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel, “The Age of Innocence” in 1921. We also like to believe she was one of the first proponents of the "shine theory" with her quote, "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

 

Murasaki Shikibu

Believed to be one of the modern world's first novelists, Murasaki Shikibu's "The Tale of Genji" was published around 1001 while she was serving in the court at the request of the Imperial family. To this day, it is still considered one of the finest works in the history of Japanese literature.

 

Gabriela Mistral

Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga (under her literary pseudonym Gabriela Mistral) was the first Latin American woman to win a Nobel Prize for literature for her poetic work, Sonnets of Death

 

Do you love ladies in literature? Organizations like Room to Read, the Poetry Foundation, and Books in Homes USA work to promote literacy and the significance of literary works in our society - support their work today, bookworms!

 

Sheroes in the Sciences

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Gertrude B. Elion

During her lifetime, biochemist and pharmacologist Gertrude Elion worked to develop drugs to treat leukemia and prevent rejection in kidney transplant recipients, as well as revolutionary drug treatments and research methods for diseases like malaria and AIDS. She won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1988.

 

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was a.) the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, b.) the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes, and c.) the only person ever to win a Nobel Prize in both physics and chemistry. Oh, and her work with her husband has helped to lay the groundwork for much of our understanding of modern science today - no big dealMarie's daughter Irene also went on to win her own Nobel Prize, a penchant for which she clearly got from her mama.

 

Caroline Herschel 

When her older brother switched careers and went into astronomy, Caroline Herschel followed, first acting as his assistant and then becoming a distinguished astronomer herself. She was the first woman to discover a comet, first to have her work published by the Royal Society, and the first British woman to get paid for her scientific work. #askformore

 

Rachel Carson

Are you passionate about conservation and environmental causes? You can thank marine biologist and writer Rachel Carson for that. Along with her work as an aquatic biologist, her book, Silent Spring, is largely credited for advancing the global environmental movement worldwide, inspiring the rise of ecofeminism and many feminist scientists.

 

Rosalind Franklin

While it's infuriating, yet entirely keeping with the times that fellow scientists Francis Crick and James Watson famously took credit for her groundbreaking work on the structure of DNA, what really matters when it comes to Rosalind Franklin is the long line of historic accomplishments in chemistry, lauded research, and contributions to her field that epitomize her lifelong dedication to and love of science.

 

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson

During one of the most exciting periods in NASA's history, some of the toughest, most mission-critical work was being done behind the scenes by the astute minds of Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson. These brilliant female figures in American space history are not so hidden anymore, thanks to the recently released book and critically acclaimed film about their contributions to the Mercury Program.


Want to see more women at the forefront of scientific discoveries? Eureka! Nonprofits like the Nature Conservancy, Union of Concerned Scientists, American Association of University Women, and NRDC do, too. Fund their work!

 

Sheroes in the Arts

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Lorraine Hansberry

Despite her family's affluence, Lorraine Hansberry's childhood in Chicago during the 1930s was not without hardship, discrimination, and segregation. But her experience and those of the residents in her community inspired her greatest work, A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by an African American to be produced on Broadway.

 

Edmonia Lewis

American Edmonia "Wildfire" Lewis is considered the first woman of Native American and African descent to achieve international fame as a sculptor at a time when artists of color were hardly celebrated and slavery was still legal. Her greatest work, The Death of Cleopatra, is now housed at the Smithsonian.

 

Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi, a shero of the ancient times, was an Italian painter and is considered one of the greatest and most progressive artists of her generation. She challenged many contemporary notions by taking on familiar biblical stories but retelling them through the female experience, and was met with contempt and even violence. Gentileschi is remembered, however, as an accomplished Baroque artist whose trials did not define her art.

 

Dorothy Arzner

In the early 1920s, Dorothy Arzner was one of a handful of working female directors as the industry transitioned from silent films. She's celebrated for "making films by women and about women," which featured females stars of the era, including Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball, and Clara Bow. When she wasn't busy mentoring Francis Ford Coppola, pioneering the invention of the boom mic, or accepting her star on the Walk of Fame, Arzner was also the first woman to join the Director's Guild of America. 

 

Ava DuVernay

Since beginning her career, the immensely talented Ava DuVernay has experienced some significant "firsts" - she was the first African American female director to receive a Golden Globe nomination and the first to have her film, Selma, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture - but she's not finished yet. DuVernay is also set to be the first woman of color to direct a film with a budget over $100 million, Disney's upcoming Wrinkle in Time.

 

Are you inspired by women in the arts? Invest in organizations like Women Made Gallery, American Women Artists, the Professional Organization for Women in the Arts, WGAW, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts which help give a voice and a future to female artists worldwide.

 

Shero Thought Leaders

Roxane Gay 

Writer and author of New York Times best seller "Bad Feminist," modern-day feminist icon Roxane Gay is a force of nature. Fun fact: she's also a competitive Scrabble player. Next up, Gay, along with poet Yona Harvey, will release Black Panther: World of Wakanda, making them the first black female duo to write for a Marvel comic.

 

Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges wrote 1791's "The Declaration of the Rights of Woman," which landed her in very hot water, seeing as it was the outset of the French Revolution. She spoke plainly to the women of France and stated that the revolution at-hand was their opportunity to fight for and achieve the advantages so freely offered to their male counterparts. She was executed for tyranny in 1793, but not before making her mark on French and feminist history.

 

Wangari Maathai 

Wangari Maathai was a renowned environmental political activist in Kenya. Along with earning her PhD (she is credited as the first woman in East and Central Africa to do so), Maathai taught at the university level, worked in the Kenya government, and founded the Greenbelt Movement. She was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her environmental work.

 

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was ahead of her time - her philosophy that men and women are equal was downright revolutionary at the end of the 18th century. Her book, "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" criticized the socialization of women into meek and dependent beings, encouraging them to pursue frivolous pursuits instead of realizing their potential. Her thoughts, while controversial at the time, blazed the trail for future feminist thinkers.

 

Anika Rahman

Anika Rahman is a Bangladeshi-American lawyer and prominent voice in the ecofeminism movement. Her distinguished career in as an advocate for women includes founding the International Legal Program for the Center for Reproductive Rights, serving as CEO of Ms. Foundation for Women, and more recently, acting as the VP of Development at the Rainforest Alliance.  

 

Want to hear more from feminist philosophers and advocates? Groups like the Lady Parts Justice, Ms. Foundation for Women, Bitch Media, and the UN Foundation focus on elevating the voices of women and marginalized populations - help amplify their messages!

 

Shero Revolutionaries

Kathleen Neal Cleaver

Kathleen Neal Cleaver joined the Black Panther Party in college in the late 1960s and served as the first female member of the Party’s decision-making body. While many remember it as a male-dominated organization, Cleaver, Angela Davis, and other women actually played a large role in leading the movement to empower African American communities during the Civil Rights era.

 

Queen Anna Nzinga

History remembers Queen Anna Nzinga as one of the great female rulers of Africa. During her reign over the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms of Angola in the 17th century, she fought against the slave trade and European influence and paved the way for a centuries-long resistance movement that would ultimately win Angola its independence in 1975.

 

Petra Herrera

Also known by her alter-ego "Pedro," Colonel Petra Herrera grew to become a prominent figure in the Mexican Revolution, despite her gender. She possessed a brilliant military aptitude and fought alongside her male counterparts on the battlefield. She eventually revealed her true self and, given her accomplishments and contributions to the revolution, was welcomed as a fierce soldadera and eventually even formed and commanded an all-female battalion.

 

Laskarina Bouboulina

Laskarina Bouboulina was a naval commander and heroine of Greek history. She took an active role in the independence movement aimed at relinquishing Ottoman rule over Greece, investing her own fortune into securing arms, ships, and otherwise equipping the soldiers under her command.

 

Do you like the sound of powerful political women? EMILY's List, She Should Run, and Emerge America are working to empower women from all walks of life to run for office and fight for more representative government - they've got our vote!

 

Shero Explorers

Mae Jemison

With the launch of the Endeavor Shuttle, engineer, physician, and astronaut Mae Jemison became the first African American woman in space in 1992. Before her historic flight, Jemison served as a Peace Corps Medical Officer in Sierra Leone and Liberia, where she oversaw the medical system that serviced Peace Corps and U.S. Embassy personnel. 

 

Nellie Bly

Inspired by Jules Verne's novel, Around the World in 80 Days, American journalist Nellie Bly set out to travel around the world - in less time. Already well known for her investigative journalism, Bly achieved her goal and grew even more famous after crisscrossing the globe in just 72 days. Boy bye.

 

Junko Tabei

A true adventurer, Junko Tabei was a Japanese mountaineer who became the first woman to scale the highest mountains on all seven continents (the "Seven Summits") and subsequently the first woman ever to conquer the almighty Mount Everest in 1975 as part of an all-female expedition. 

 

Harriet Chalmers Adams

Originally from California, Harriet Chalmers Adams lived a life that saw her travel through South America, Asia, and the South Pacific. She also wrote for the most prestigious magazines of the time, despite her gender. She was the only female journalist allowed in the trenches of World War I and founded the Society of Woman Geographers in 1925.

 

Ann Bancroft

As another female trailblazer, Ann Bancroft was the first woman to reach the North Pole, crossing both polar ice caps, and the first woman to ski across Greenland in 1986. Recruiting her fellow female explorers, Bancroft led a four-woman expedition to the South Pole on skis, the first of its kind. But she wasn't finished yet. In 2001, Ann and her friend Liv Arnesen became the first women to ski across Antarctica.

 

Want to help send a woman to the uncharted frontiers of the deep ocean or the surface of Mars? Explore the work of organizations like the National Geographic Society, Audubon, and The Mars Generation - their impact is out of this world.

 

Shero Game-Changers

Coco Chanel

French fashion designer and business woman Coco Chanel did much more than make clothing. She bucked traditional corset-dominated fashion and instead designed clothing for women that suited their new, post-War experience, pioneering and popularizing a new feminine style that was sporty, casual, and chic. Chanel's designs revolutionized views on women in society and opened doors for modernization in France and worldwide.

 

Kamala Harris

As the first woman, first Jamaican-American, and the first Indian-American attorney general in California, Harris secured her place in political history. She took it a step further in 2016 by becoming only the second woman of color elected to serve in the United States Senate

 

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera was a proud and vocal advocate against sexual violence, racism, and transphobia. After witnessing the Stonewall Riots first-hand as a teenager, Rivera's revolutionary spirit was ignited and she worked for the rest of her life, continuing her activism and forming a group that worked with homeless drag queens and transgender women of color in New York City.

 

Charlotte Cooper

England's Charlotte Cooper is remembered for winning five singles titles at Wimbledon and being the first female athlete to become an Olympic Champion in 1900. A year after winning her first singles title, Cooper went completely deaf, but never let it stop her career in tennis. She went on to earn several more titles and an Olympic gold medal and is still one of only four women to win a title after becoming a mother. And she did it all in a Victorian gown - slow clap.

 

Elizabeth Cowell

Elizabeth Cowell was British broadcaster and the first female announcer to grace the television airways for the BBC in 1936, just before the network launched its television service. 

 

Ready to support more female game-changers? National Center for Transgender EqualityGirls Who Code, TGI Justice Project, Global Fund for Women, The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and Malala Fund are committed to disrupting the status quo for all women and girls worldwide.

 

Future Sheroes

 

Jazz Jennings

After her interview with Barbara Walters, Jazz Jennings' rise has been nothing short of meteoric. She's a transgender teen and internet star whose story and spirit have inspired millions of people, including her peers, to better understand what it means to be transgender in today's society. Jennings is the youngest person ever to be featured on the Out 100 and The Advocate's 40 Under 40 lists and she's showing no signs of slowing down.

 

Olivia Bouler

Olivia Bouler's environmental activism started early. At just 10 years old, Bouler, moved by the scenes of destruction following the Gulf Coast oil spill, channeled her love of art and the environment to bring attention to the environmental crisis. Through her bird drawings, Bouler raised over $200,000 for wildlife recovery services. Since then, she's been named a White House Champion of Change and has written (and continues to write) to advocate for environmental causes.

 

Yara Shahidi

When Michelle Obama writes your college recommendation letter, it sort of solidifies your shero status. Besides staring in the hit comedy series, Black-ish, Yara Shahidi is a vocal champion and activist for a number of issues, including female representation in society and the media.

 

Laura Dekker

In a harrowing act of bravery and independence, Dutch sailor Laura Dekker set sail to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the world in 2010 at just 17 years old. A documentary chronicling her life and incredible 17 month-long solo journey premiered at SXSW, with the footage of her actual voyage being shot by Dekker herself. No chase boat, no support, no film crew, no problem.

  

Kiara Nirghin 

Kiara Nirghin is the 2016 Google Science Fair champ. She hails from Johannesburg, South Africa and at just 16 years old, presented her project aimed at allieviating the drought crisis in her home country. Her experimental soil treatment won her the coveted prize and a $50,000 scholarship.

 

Tavi Gevinson

Tavi Gevinson is an American writer, fashion blogger, and magazine editor. At just 15 years old, she built off of the success of her blog to launch the wildly popular Rookie Magazine, an online publication aimed for and by teen girls that's been credited with giving a voice and a platform for young women of her generation.

 

Do you agree that sheroes like these are fueling our future? Organizations like Black Girls Code, We Stop Hate, I AM THAT GIRL, Running Start, Girls Write Now, Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, and so many more are making that future a reality and they need your support!

 

Who are the sheroes that inspire you? Let us know on Twitter!

 

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