7 World-Changing Women History Books Don’t Tell You About
In April of 2019, Dr. Katie Bouman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology produced the first-ever image of a black hole and had the whole world talking about the role of women in history. It sounds sad, but for centuries, many discoveries and inventions made by women had been ignored by history books and remained overshadowed by men’s breakthroughs. According to historian Dr. Bettany Hughes, women’s achievements in art, science, politics, and other fields make up for only 0.5% of recorded history.
Here at Bright Side, we want to make our contribution to the fight for gender equality and tell you about 7 women who managed to change the world we live in, but oddly enough, are completely underrepresented in history books.
1. Margaret Hamilton, born in 1936
It would probably be very hard to find a person who has never heard of the Apollo 11 space mission that successfully landed the first 2 people on the moon in 1969. While all the mass media attention was concentrated on NASA and the men who took part in that mission, there were several women who made it all happen, and computer scientist Margaret Hamilton was one of them. The software that she and her team developed helped NASA’s astronauts safely land on the moon.
Back in those days, computer technology was different and Margaret had to deal with paper-punched cards to upload information into room-sized computers that had no interface, working really hard to create and thoroughly test the software. The photo above shows Hamilton standing next to a huge pile of papers containing the navigation software data that she created for the Apollo 11 mission.
2. Margaret Sanger, 1879 — 1966
Margaret Sanger was an American feminist and women’s rights activist. Her mother, Anne, had 11 children and several miscarriages which Margaret believed contributed to her mother’s untimely death. Margaret attended Claverack College, trained as a nurse, and then worked as an obstetrical nurse in New York hospitals. Her career in medical care made her notice the correlation between poverty, uncontrolled fertility, and high rates of maternal mortality and deaths caused by illegal abortions.
Margaret Sanger coined the term “birth control” and was fighting for women’s rights to use contraception. Some of her publications and pamphlets about planned parenthood were considered to be immoral, and she faced charges and even had to flee to England in 1914. In 1916, after coming back to the United States, she opened the first birth control clinic. Despite her controversial campaign and the charges that followed, she won the right for doctors to prescribe contraception to their female patients.
3. Victoria Woodhull, 1838 — 1927
Victoria Woodhull was an American reformer, spiritualist, and women’s rights advocate who is known as the first woman to run for U.S. president in 1872. Woodhull was a good speaker and she often spoke publicly about defending the rights of women and even addressed Congress. Trying to become even more politically active, she organized the Equal Rights Party and ran for U.S. president on the political group’s ticket.
Because of her numerous relationships and radical ideas, Woodhull was strongly criticized by society. Some sources say she didn’t receive any electoral votes in the 1872 election and an unknown but small number of popular votes. Even though her presidential campaign was not successful, she will always stand in history as the first woman who tried to become the president of the United States.
4. Rosalind Franklin, 1920 — 1958
Rosalind Franklin was a British scientist that made a ground-breaking contribution to the understanding of the molecular structure of DNA and viruses. During World War II she served as a London air raid warden and even worked for the British Coal Utilisation Research Association where she studied carbon and coal for the needs of war.
In 1951 she joined the King’s College in London. When she started her studies there, very little was known about the structure of DNA, however, she soon discovered that DNA molecules had a helical structure with the help of X-ray methods. The work she did enabled other scientists after her to suggest that the DNA structure was a double spiral that consisted of 2 strands wound around each other.
5. Chien-Shiung Wu, 1912 — 1997
Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-born American nuclear physicist who greatly contributed to the Manhattan Project at Columbia University and nuclear physics in general. She discovered a way to enrich uranium and experimentally proved that parity could not be conserved for weak nuclear interactions. A series of nuclear experiments she carried out together with 2 male scientists, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, led to a Nobel Prize for Yang and Lee in 1957.
Unfortunately, Chien-Shiung Wu herself was excluded, like many other female scientists back in those days. She was well aware of gender inequality and during a scientific conference she said, “I wonder whether the tiny atoms and nuclei, or the mathematical symbols, or the DNA molecules have any preference for either masculine or feminine treatment.”
6. Nettie Stevens, 1861 — 1912
Nettie Maria Stevens was an early American biologist and geneticist. She was one of the first scientists to discover that chromosomes determine sex. In 1904 she conducted research in the field of cytology and the regenerative process together with zoologist and geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan who was given a Nobel Prize for this work in 1933. A series of experiments with the yellow mealworms she carried out in 1905 helped her find that a certain combination of chromosomes, X and Y, was responsible for determining the sex of individuals.
7. Barbara McClintock, 1902 — 1992
Barbara McClintock was an American cytogeneticist who discovered mobile genetic elements or the so-called “jumping genes” that can appear in different locations within a genome. McClintock made this discovery while studying color variations in kernels of corn, and was awarded a Nobel Prize for this breakthrough in 1983. McClintock’s experiments with corn revealed that genetic information is not stationary and that some genes could move along the chromosome, influencing the neighboring genes.
It’s interesting that even though McClintock’s discovery was way ahead of her time, for many years it was considered too brave and was even ignored by other scientists. She was so frustrated that she stopped giving lectures and publishing results of her work. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s when the scientific community started to acknowledge the results of her earlier work.
Had you ever heard about the women from our list before you read this article? Do you think women should be better represented in history?
Preview photo credit Bettmann / Getty Images