From Snipers to Bullfighters
Women are change-makers. Their participation in the workforce grows economies, creates jobs, and increases prosperity.
Celebrating the spirit of womanhood is not about touting the superiority of one gender over the other. It is, instead, about joining hands and learning how we can all continue to progress.
These eight historical women prove how we’re in it together.
1. Juana Inés de la Cruz, Spain (1651-1695)
A nun who devoted her life to study, Juana Inés de la Cruz expressed an early interest in academics. She learned how to read and write Latin at the age of three. By age five, she could reportedly do accounts. At age eight, she was trying her hand at poetry. By adolescence, Juana had a grip on Greek logic, and at age thirteen, she was instructing young children in Latin. She would go on to have an influence on the Spanish Golden age and remains an inspiration to artists of the modern era.
2. Jeanne Baré, France (1740-1807)
Not only is Jeanne Baré the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, she did it dressed as a man. For more than two years, the botanist traveled alongside her lover, also a botanist, on a French naval vessel. She wore linen bandages around her upper body to hide her chest. The reason for her disguise? “A French Royal ordinance forbade women being on French Navy ships,” author Glynis Ridley told NPR.
3. Mary Jane Patterson, America (1840-1894)
Pioneer in black education
Mary Jane Patterson was the first black woman in the United States to receive a BA degree. Her first teaching gig was in the Female Department of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. Later, Patterson accepted a teaching position in Washington, D.C., at the newly created Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, later known as Dunbar High School. She served as the school’s first black principal, from 1871 to 1874.
4. Cornelia Sorabji, India (1866-1954)
Laying down the law
Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman to study law at Oxford. Sorabji would go on to play a pivotal advisory role in protecting the interests of the purdahnashins (a woman who observes purdah, segregation of the sexes; often, these women owned property, but were legally unable to defend it). She was among the first group of women to practice at the Calcutta High Court, where she encountered fierce male bias. Throughout her life, she was a strong believer in educating illiterate women, which she saw as critical to women’s suffrage.
5. Fe del Mundo, Philippines (1909-2011)
This doc is what’s up!
Fe del Mundo was the first woman to be admitted as a student to Harvard Medical School. She founded the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. Eight decades of pioneering work in pediatrics won her international recognition, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1977. In 1980, she was conferred the rank and title of National Scientist of the Philippines. In 2010, she was conferred the Order of Lakandula.
6. Lyudmila Pavlichenko, Russia (1916-1974)
One to be feared
Nicknamed “Lady Death,” Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a Ukrainian Soviet sniper during World War II, and quite a successful one at that; she is credited with 309 kills, the most of any woman in history. In addition to being awarded the Gold Star by the Soviet Union, Pavlichenko’s war record was the subject of a song, “Miss Pavlichenko,” by folk singer Woody Guthrie.
7. Conchita Cintrón, Chile (1922-2009)
A bullfighter with style
Conchita Cintrón was a Chilean-Peruvian torera (female bullfighter) who was renowned for her duende (style and bravado) in the ring. Author Orson Welles once said of her, “Her record stands as a rebuke to every man of us who has ever maintained that a woman must lose something of her femininity if she seeks to compete with men.”
8. Naziha al-Dulaimi, Iraq (1923-2007)
A voice for the oppressed
An early pioneer of the Iraqi feminist movement, Naziha al-Dulaimi was a cofounder and first president of the Iraqi Women League, the first woman minister in Iraq’s modern history, and the first woman cabinet minister in the Arab world. Her fight for social progress was rooted in an appreciation for patriotic objectives and an awareness of suffering among the most vulnerable.
What historical women inspire you?
(Article originally written by me for MARC Catalyst)