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Who are some of the most fascinating and most inspirational women in history?
Marie Curie overcame prejudice against her as a foreigner in France, as a Jew and as a woman to found the science of radioactivity and lead the first studies to find effective cures for cancer.
Curie was born in Poland but moved to France where she studied physics. Together with her husband Pierre, with physicist Henri Becquerel, the three researchers were awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work in identifying and harnessing radioactivity. In 1911, using techniques that she invented to isolate radioactive isotopes, Curie identified two new chemical elements, polonium and radium and for that discovery she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She then opened laboratories with the goal of developing treatments for cancer.
Few people know that during WWI Curie helped to equip ambulances with x-ray equipment. She sometimes drove them to the front line herself to treat soldiers. Curie often became ill from the radioactive materials that she handled as safe methods for handing these materials was not yet available during her lifetime. She died at age 66 of aplastic anemia that she developed due to exposure to exposure to radiation that she experienced from her scientific research.
Malala Yousafzai has been acting as an activist for the rights of girls in Pakistan to get an education since she was a teen. Malala is a member of the Yousafzai clan. Her family ran a chain of schools and while still a young teen she wrote a blog about radical Islamist Tehrik- i - Taliban’s efforts to prevent girls from being educated. She received a great deal of international attention for her work including a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize. At age 15 a school bus on which she was riding was ambushed by Tehrik- i - Taliban gunmen and she was shot in the head (2 other girls were also shot). She was in critical condition but she was brought to the UK for treatment where she recovered.
The shooting raised awareness and support for her campaign. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 2014 and has received numerous other prizes. Today she is a prominent activist for the right for everyone to receive an education and has been named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world. She has completed her BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University in 2020.
Rosa Parks was an African American woman living in Montgomery Alabama in 1955 when she purposefully sat in a “whites only” area on a public bus and launched a massive boycott of the city’s public transportation system and a battle that sparked the Civil Rights Movement in the southern United States.
Parks’ act if civil disobedience had been planned and coordinated with the local branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) which had been waiting for just the right opportunity to challenge the city’s segregation laws. Parks agreed to allow herself to be arrested so that the NAACP lawyers could take the City of Montgomery to count.
Following Parks’ arrest and conviction of violating segregation laws, the Black community launched a massive boycott of city buses. Martin Luther King became the president and spokesperson for the Black’s Montgomery Improvement Association and managed the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott that drew the attention from the national and international press to the issue.
The economic cost of the boycott, together with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the matter that determined that bus segregation was unconstitutional, dealt a significant blow to the segregationist policies of the South.
Eleanor Roosevelt went well beyond her role as First Lady during her husband’s four terms as president to make a name for herself as a champion of the needy and disadvantaged. Roosevelt had many burdens to overcome including the death of both of her parents while she was still a child and knowledge of her husband’s affair with his mistress. But she ignored the hurdles to become a voice for people around the world who had no voice.
Roosevelt pioneered the idea of a First Lady holding press conferences and she hosted a radio show and wrote newspaper and magazine columns on a regular basis. She was particularly outspoken on the disgraceful lack of civil rights for African Americans and the need for more action for womens’ rights. Her husband died as president in 1945 but Eleanor remained active, helping to create the United Nations, serving on the UN Commission on Human Rights and chairing the Kennedy administration’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. She was probably one of the most criticized and most respected women in American history.
Florence Nightingale championed the place of nurses on the battlefield when she tended to British soldiers during the Crimean War. Massive numbers of soldiers were falling to disease – more than those who were wounded – and Nightingale earned the respect of the army’s brass by helping reduce avoidable deaths. She established a permanent military nursing service and implemented improvements to the army’s medical services, all while risking her own life on the battlefield. After the war she established a nursing school in London, laying the foundations for the nursing profession as an integral component of the medical world.