4 Influential Women Who Changed History
Women's History Month arrives every March, but women should be celebrated year-round. We often hear about the same influential women that we read about in our textbooks as kids.
But there are plenty of women making marks in history every day, including these four women who paved a path that uniquely changed the world.
4 Women you may not know and how they made history
Rosalind Elsie Franklin
(25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958)
Rosalind Franklin knew from age 15 that she would be a scientist. Her father protested when she enrolled in college, but she went on to earn a doctorate in chemistry. She studied X-ray techniques before returning to England to lead a research team.
During this time, women weren’t allowed to do many things on campus, including dining in the cafeteria. She didn’t let this deter her as she led her team to study DNA structures. She created a technique called X-ray crystallography, which revealed the helical shape of the DNA molecule. Researchers Watson and Crick realized that DNA was made up of two chains of nucleotide pairs that encode the genetic information for all living things. All of this was thanks to Franklin’s groundbreaking X-ray techniques.
Ida Bell Wells-Barnett
(July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931)
Ida B. Wells overcame tremendous odds to become the first African-American journalist and an activist who led a U.S. anti-lynching campaign in the 1890s. She was born into slavery but ultimately forged her way into the American education system, where she attended Rust University in her hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Ida risked her life investigating and exposing violence against black people and eventually became a co-owner of The Memphis Free Speech. She moved to Chicago in her 30s, where she would establish the first black kindergarten, lead organizations of black women, and help the city's first black alderman get elected. She paved the way for generations of black politicians, activists, and community leaders to impact their communities.
(January 26, 1892 – April 30, 1926)
Amelia Earhart is a famous woman pilot, but Bessie Coleman was the first black woman to earn a pilot's license. No flight school in the U.S. would admit her, so she learned French and earned her pilot's license from France's Caudron Brother's School of Aviation instead — and she did this in record time. Then in 1922, Coleman became the first black woman to stage a public flight in the U.S. She became well-known for her stunt flying and aerial tricks, all while helping to break barriers for African Americans and women alike.
Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin
(May 10, 1900 – December 7, 1979)
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was a British-born American astronomer who discovered that stars are made primarily of hydrogen and helium — being the first to differentiate the sun’s composition from the earth. She also established a way for stars to be classified by temperatures.
At first, male scientists rejected her ideas, but within a few years, her discoveries became mainstream. Scientists soon after recognized that hydrogen was the most common element in the universe. She later became Harvard’s first fully appointed female professor and department chair.
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