How many awesome, under-recognized women make up our history? Let's start by saying I recognized only one of the dozen honorees of 2014’s Women’s History Month, which kicked off March 1. This year, the National Women's History Project, which gave life to the list, chose to honor women of "character, courage and commitment."
“Against social convention and often legal restraints, women have created a legacy that expands the frontiers of possibility for generations to come,” the organization says of this year’s honorees. “They have demonstrated their character, courage and commitment as mothers, educators, institution builders, business, labor, political and community leaders, relief workers, women religious, and CEOs. Their lives and their work inspire girls and women to achieve their full potential and encourage boys and men to respect the diversity and depth of women’s experience.”
The woman who was familiar to me is Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions. She lost her legs and partial use of her right arm after her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and exploded. She earned a Purple Heart for her combat injuries, went on to serve as Assistant Secretary of Veteran Affairs, and in 2014 was elected to the House of Representatives for the state of Illinois.
You can find all the honorees here, and I encourage you to take a few minutes to read about these remarkable women. Here are a few I particularly wanted to call out.
Chipeta (1843-1924). An Indian rights advocate who married a powerful chief of the Uncompahgre Ute tribe in what is now western Colorado, Chipeta (above) lived through the “often violent and brutal times of western settlement. Chipeta was a peacemaker who did not consider all settlers to be the enemy, often giving food to starving white families.”
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (1858-1964). An African American educator and author who was born a slave, Cooper was one of the first to write about Black feminism in “A Voice from the South.” Throughout her life, she helped black high school students prepare for successful college careers.
Katherine Ryan Gibbs (1863-1934). After she became a widow at the age of 48 with no means to support herself and her two sons, Gibbs founded the Katherine Gibbs School in 1911 to provide “women with high-level secretarial training and the opportunity to earn their own incomes." This gave educated women, who mainly became teachers or nurses, an opportunity to actually have a career in business.
Roxcy O’Neal Bolton (1926 – present). We owe Bolton thanks for many things: She opened Florida’s first battered women's shelter and the nation’s first hospital-based rape treatment center. She convinced National Airlines to offer maternity leave to pregnant flight attendants, rather than firing them. She lobbied for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). And she convinced the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to name hurricanes after both women and men.
Arden Eversmeyer (1931 – present). Eversmeyer created the Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project “to ensure that the stories of lesbians born in the first part of the 20th century, who were labeled “mentally ill”, fired from their jobs, rejected by their families, and even raped and murdered with impunity, are recorded in history.” The project, archived at Smith College, now has more than 320 life stories recorded to inform future generations.
Jaida Im (1961 - present). A former health care professional, Im founded Freedom House, the first residential shelter for adult female survivors of human trafficking. Three years after she opened Freedom House, she opened The Nest, to serve girls ages 12-17 and help them “recapture their interrupted youth in a loving family setting.” -- Connie Guglielmo
Photo of Chipeta courtesy of the Colorado Historical Society