Recognizing Unsung Heroines for Women’s History Month

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Women’s History Month is a celebration that recognizes women’s contributions to American history and encourages all women to be trailblazers.

This movement pushed for the creation of a single, week-long holiday beginning on March 7, 1982. President Ronald Reagan made this an immediate reality before turning it into an annual, month-long tradition in 1987.

Each year history courses briefly cover the same handful of women: Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Nellie Bly and Sally K. Ride. These women’s contributions to society were undeniably significant. Without Susan B. Anthony, 2020 wouldn’t mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. But this year, I’d like to celebrate by acknowledging some female trailblazers who aren’t typically mentioned in schools.

The Freewoman: Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman (1744-1829)
Freeman was a slave of John Ashley, in whose home she learned of a new law stating all men were created equal. Though she respected Ashley, she sued him for her freedom and won with a case that challenged the legality of slavery itself. This marked the beginning of the end of slavery in Massachusetts.

The Activist: Bina West (1867-1954)
There was once a time when women were not able to obtain life insurance due to the high mortality risks of childbirth, so Bina West established what is now the Woman’s Life Insurance Society to grant financial support, education, social activities and volunteer opportunities for women. She became a highly respected businesswoman and philanthropist, and she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

The Physicist: Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)
Wu developed the process for separating uranium metal into isotopes, confirmed theories on beta decay for which two men received the Nobel Prize in Physics and answered questions about blood and sickle cell anemia. She was the first female president of the American Physical Society and the first woman to be awarded an honorary doctorate from Princeton University. She is also believed to be the only Chinese-American to work on the Manhattan Project.

The Paradox: Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
Lamarr was a highly successful Austrian-American actress and unappreciated inventor. She co-patented a “Secret Communications System” that changed radio frequencies to keep German Nazis from decoding American messages, a technology that was not understood until years later but secured military communications and led to the development of cell phones and Wi-Fi.

The Olympian: Pat McCormick (1930-)
McCormick is a diver and the first woman in history to win a “double-double,” or two gold medals in two consecutive Olympic Games (1952 and 1956). Her success and numerous awards lent her fame that she used to found “Pat’s Champs,” a charity for the children labeled “high risk” by educators.

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