Celebrating women

Emma Hennessy (TheLorian)

Women’s History Month is in full-swing. While there are many women who have been and continue to be influential, here are a few women who really stand out.

Susan B. Anthony

“The day may be approaching when the whole world will recognize woman as the equal of man.”

Susan B. Anthony is a major figure in the Women’s rights. She was involved in the abolitionist movement, the women’s suffrage movement, and the temperance movement. In the 1840s, her family became involved in the abolitionist movement, hosting meetings on their family farm. Anthony also became head of the girls’ department at Canajoharie Academy for two years. In 1869, Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association.  She traveled around the country to give speeches in support of women’s suffrage. In 1872, Anthony was arrested for illegally voting in the presidential election. She also made The Revolution, a weekly newspaper that advocated for women’s rights.

Sylvia Del Villard

“[She] lived her life protecting our African heritage and she did it with extraordinary passion. She was a Black Queen to those of us who had the privilege of paying her tribute.” – Wilda Rodríguez (Journalist)

Sylvia Del Villard was an Afro-Puerto Rican performer and activist. Villard was born in San Juan Puerto Rico in 1928. After graduating high school, she was given a scholarship to attend Fisk University in Tennessee. There, she studied Social Work and Anthropology. After experiencing discrimination, she decided to continue her studies at the University of Puerto Rico. After transferring to City College of New York, Villard. She joined “Africa House,” a group for singers and dancers on campus.

She also performed in many different theatrical performances, television programs and films. In 1968, she founded The Teatro Afro Boricua El Coqui Company in San Juan. However, her African-centered theater was forced to close in the late 70s after dealing with legal fees when Puerto Rican residents complained that her performances were “disruptive.” Throughout her career, Villard was a strong activist- speaking out about the racism experienced by black Puerto Ricans. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Villard moved back to Puerto Rico, where she passed away due to lung cancer in 1990.

Kalpana Chawla

“You must enjoy the journey because whether or not you get there, you must have fun on the way.”

Kalpana Chawla (born in India in 1961) was the first Indian-woman to go to space. Chawla graduated from Punjab Engineering College with a degree in aeronautical engineering. In the 1980s, she immigrated to the United States and graduated The University of Texas with a masters degree. She also graduated from The University of Colorado in 1988 with her doctorate degree. Shortly after graduating, she began working for NASA and started training to be an astronaut in 1994. A year later, she was a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches. In 1997, she flew in space for the first time, completing 252 orbits around Earth in two weeks. This made her the first Indian-born woman to go to space. Unfortunately, Chawla died in 2003 on her second flight in which the space shuttle depressurized, killing the crew. Shortly after her untimely death, the University of Texas dedicated a memorial in her honor. She continues to inspire astronauts today.   

Malala Yousafzai

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 in Mingora, Swat Valley, Pakistan. As a teenager, Malala attended Khushal Girls High School and excelled in her studies. In 2007, Swat Valley was invaded by the Pakistani Taliban- a radical Islamic terrorist group. The Taliban began carrying out suicide bombings, shutting down and bombing over 100 schools for girls, as well as suppressing women’s rights in Pakistan. In 2008, Malala gave her first public speech at 11 years old, demanding rights to her education. Under a pen name, she also wrote about what life was like under Taliban rule. She submitted a total of 35 entries to the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). Tensions began to rise as the Taliban was pressured to grant rights to women and girls. The Taliban temporarily agreed to allow education for girls as long as they wore burkas. The peace did not last long and Malala and her family fled Swat Valley until tensions decreased. Malala continued to be an activist through writing, interviews and advocacy. In 2011, she was nominated for The International Children’s Peace Prize and was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. On Oct. 9, 2012, Malala received global attention after a failed assassination attempt. Malala was on her way home from school when a Taliban gunman stepped onto her school bus and asked “Who is Malala?”

Malala was rushed to the hospital after being shot in the head. In 2013, she spoke at United Nations and published her book, ““I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.” Malala became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17. Today, the Malala Fund continues to be an advocate for equal rights for women and girls.

Wilma Rudolph

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”

Wilma Rudolph was an African American Olympic Athlete. She was born in Tennessee in 1940. As a child, she suffered from infantile paralysis. Wilma was also born premature, giving her a compromised immune system which meant that she often suffered from pneumonia and scarlet fever. She had to wear a brace on her leg and was told that she would never walk again due to her illnesses. However, by 11 years old, she was recovered from her illness (infantile paralysis) and she was able to walk. Wilma was playing high school basketball when she was discovered by Ed Temple, a future Olympic Track and Field coach.

In 1956, 16 year old Wilma Rudolph won a bronze medal in the Olympics in the 400 meter relay. In the Summer Olympics of 1960, Wilma won 3 gold Medals and managed to break 3 world records. On arriving back from the Olympics, she refused to attend her homecoming parade if it were not integrated. Following her demands, her hometown of Clarksville had their first integrated large gathering.

Wilma Rudolph graduated from Tennessee State University with a degree in education. In 1961, she received the Sullivan award and Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year Award. In 1962, she received the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Award. In 1973, she was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame. A year later, she was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. In the early 1980s, she was also inducted into the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame as well as the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

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