It’s International Women’s Day 2018 and we are all about celebrating all women who have in the press for progress, stood their ground, made innovations, made a stand, and blazed trails for men and women alike to go through. We are celebrating women in Science, the arts and politics.
MAE C. JEMISON (1956 – ) Astronaut, Scientist, Doctor
Mae C. is an American astronaut and physician who, on June 4, 1987, became the first African-American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. On September 12, 1992, Jemison finally flew into space with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, becoming the first African-American woman in space. In recognition of her accomplishments, Jemison has received several awards and honorary doctorates.
During her eight days in space, Jemison conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew and herself. In all, she spent more than 190 hours in space before returning to Earth on September 20, 1992. Following her historic flight, Jemison noted that society should recognize how much both women and members of other minority groups can contribute if given the opportunity.
After Jemison obtained her M.D. in 1981, she interned at Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center and later worked as a general practitioner. For the next two and a half years, she was the area Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia where she also taught and did medical research.
Following her return to the United States in 1985, Jemison made a career change and decided to follow a dream she had nurtured for a long time: In October, she applied for admission to NASA’s astronaut training program. The Challenger disaster of January 1986 delayed the selection process, but when she reapplied a year later, Jemison was one of the 15 candidates chosen from a field of about 2,000.
In recognition of her accomplishments, Jemison received a number of accolades, including several honorary doctorates, the 1988 Essence Science and Technology Award, the Ebony Black Achievement Award in 1992 and a Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College in 1993. She was also named Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year in 1990. In 1992, the Mae C. Jemison Academy, an alternative public school in Detroit, Michigan, was named after her.
Jemison has been a member of several prominent organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and she served on the board of directors of the World Sickle Cell Foundation from 1990 to 1992. She has also served as an advisory committee member of the American Express Geography Competition and an honorary board member of the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Malnutrition.
After leaving the astronaut corps in March 1993, Jemison accepted a teaching fellowship at Dartmouth. She also established the Jemison Group, a company that seeks to research, develop and market advanced technologies.
CAROLINE HERSCHEL (1750 – 1848)Scientist, Astronomer
In addition to assisting her brother, William in his observations and in the building of telescopes, Caroline became a brilliant astronomer in her own right, discovering new nebulae and star clusters. She was the first woman to discover a comet (she discovered eight in total) and the first to have her work published by the Royal Society. She was also the first British woman to get paid for her scientific work, when William, who had been named the king’s personal astronomer after his discovery of Uranus in 1781, persuaded his patron to reward his assistant with an annual salary. After William’s death in 1822, Caroline retired to Hanover. There she continued her astronomical work, compiling a catalogue of nebulae—the Herschels’ work had increased the number of known star clusters from 100 to 2,500. She died in 1848 at age 97 after receiving many honors in her field, including a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society.
MAYA ANGELOU (1928 – 2014)Poet, Civil Rights Activist, Author
Marguerite Annie Johnson Angelou, known as Maya Angelou, was an American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet and civil rights activist best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. Angelou received several honors throughout her career, including two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category, in 2005 and 2009.
Angelou had a difficult childhood. From her parents’ split up when she was very young, to being raped by her mother’s boyfriend to watching her uncles kill the rapist. So traumatized by the experience, Angelou stopped talking. She returned to Arkansas and spent years as a virtual mute.
As an African American, Angelou experienced firsthand racial prejudices and discrimination in Arkansas.
Friend and fellow writer James Baldwin urged Angelou to write about her life experiences, resulting in the enormously successful 1969 memoir about her childhood and young adult years, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The poignant story made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. The book, which made Angelou an international star, continues to be regarded as her most popular autobiographical work. In 1995, Angelou was lauded for remaining on The New York Times‘ paperback nonfiction best-seller list for two years—the longest-running record in the chart’s history.
One of her most famous works, Angelou wrote a poem especially for and recited at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural ceremony in January 1993. The occasion marked the first inaugural recitation since 1961, when Robert Frost delivered his poem “The Gift Outright” at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Angelou went on to win a Grammy Award (best spoken word album) for the audio version of the poem.
Another autobiographical work, A Song Flung Up to Heaven explores Angelou’s return from Africa to the U.S. and her ensuing struggle to cope with the devastating assassinations of two human rights leaders with whom she worked, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The book ends when, at the encouragement of her friend James Baldwin, Angelou began work on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
‘Letter to My Daughter’ (2008) is another book she wrote dedicated to the daughter Angelou never had, this book of essays features Angelou’s advice for young women about living a life of meaning.
During World War II, Angelou moved to San Francisco, California, where she won a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School. Also during this time, Angelou became the first black female cable car conductor — a job she held only briefly — in San Francisco. After giving birth to her son, she worked a number of jobs to support herself and her child.
Angelou spent much of the 1960s abroad, living first in Egypt and then in Ghana, working as an editor and a freelance writer. Angelou also held a position at the University of Ghana for a time. In Ghana she also joined a community of “Revolutionist Returnees” exploring pan-Africanism and became close with human rights activist and Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X.
Angelou’s career has seen numerous accolades, including the Chicago International Film Festival’s 1998 Audience Choice Award and a nod from the Acapulco Black Film Festival in 1999 for Down in the Delta. She also won two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category, for her 2005 cookbook and 2008’s Letter to My Daughter.
After experiencing health issues for a number of years, Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014, at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The news of her passing spread quickly with many people taking to social media to mourn and remember Angelou. Singer Mary J. Blige and politician Cory Booker were among those who tweeted their favorite quotes by her in tribute. President Barack Obama also issued a statement about Angelou, calling her “a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.” Angelou “had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer,” he wrote.
MARIA MITCHELL (1818 – 1889) Scientist, Astronomer
Maria Mitchell’s father taught her how to observe the. When Mitchell was 12, she helped her father record the time of an eclipse. And at 17, she had already begun her own school for girls, teaching them science and math.
Mitchell rocketed to the forefront of American astronomy in 1847 when she spotted a blurry streak—a comet—through her telescope. She was honored around the world, earning a medal from the king of Denmark, and became the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Mitchell became the first female astronomy professor in the United States, when she was hired by Vassar College in 1865. There she continued her observations, particularly those of the Sun, traveling up to 2,000 miles to witness an eclipse.
MARIE M. DALY BIOGRAPHY (1921–2003) Chemist, Scientist
Marie M. Daly was born on April 16, 1921, in Queens, New York. She was raised in an education-oriented family, and Daly quickly received her B.S. and M.S. in chemistry at Queens College and New York University. After completing her Ph.D. at Columbia—and becoming the first African-American woman to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States—Daly taught and conducted research. She died in New York City on October 28, 2003.
Daly came from a family who believed strongly in the power of education. Daly’s mother, Helen, grew up in Washington, D.C., and came from a family of readers. She spent long hours reading to her daughter, and fostered Marie’s love of books—in particular those that centered on science and scientists.
Daly didn’t waste time in completing her studies. She finished her master’s degree in just a year and then, in 1944, enrolled at Columbia University as a doctoral student. Aided by her own ambition and intelligence, Daly was further helped by timing. World War II was at its peak, and employers were looking for women to fill the jobs left by the scores of men who’d been sent overseas to fight. In addition, Columbia’s chemistry program was being led by Dr. Mary L. Caldwell, a renowned scientist who helped blaze new trails for women in chemistry throughout her career.
At Columbia, Daly took to the lab, studying how the body’s chemicals help digest food. She finished her doctorate—unknowingly making history as the first female African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States—in 1947. Fascinated by the human body’s complicated inner workings, Daly landed a grant in 1948 from the American Cancer Society. This was the start of a seven-year research program at the Rockefeller Institute of Medicine, where Daly examined how proteins are constructed in the body.
In 1955, Daly returned to Columbia, working closely with Dr. Quentin B. Deming on the causes of heart attacks. Their groundbreaking work, which was later relocated to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York, disclosed the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries. That work opened up a new understanding of how foods and diet can affect the health of the heart and the circulatory system.
In addition to her research work at Einstein, Daly also taught biochemistry courses. Recognizing the importance of her own career path, Daly championed efforts to get students of color enrolled in medical schools and graduate science programs. In 1988 she started a scholarship, in honor of her father, for minority students who want to study science at Queens College.
Daly retired from Albert Einstein College in 1986. Her many honors included induction into Phi Beta Kappa as well as being tapped as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
LISE MEITNER (1878 – 1968) Scientist, Physicist
When Lise Meitner finished school at age 14, she was barred from higher education, as were all girls in Austria. But, inspired by the discoveries of William Röntgen and Henri Becquerel, she was determined to study radioactivity. When she turned 21, women were finally allowed into Austrian universities. Two years of tutoring preceded her enrollment at the University of Vienna; there she excelled in math and physics and earned her doctorate in 1906. She wrote to Marie Curie, but there was no room for her in the Paris lab and so Meitner made her way to Berlin. There she collaborated with Otto Hahn on the study of radioactive elements, but as an Austrian Jewish woman (all three qualities were strikes against her), she was excluded from the main labs and lectures and allowed to work only in the basement. In 1912, the pair moved to a new university and Meitner had better lab facilities. Though their partnership was split up physically when she was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1938, they continued to collaborate. Meitner continued her work in Sweden and after Hahn discovered that uranium atoms were split when bombarded with neutrons, she calculated the energy released in the reaction and named the phenomenon “nuclear fission.” The discovery—which eventually led to the atomic bomb (“You must not blame scientists for the use to which war technicians have put our discoveries,” Meitner would say in 1945)—won Hahn the Nobel Prize in 1944. Meitner, overlooked by the Nobel committee, refused to return to Germany after the war and continued her atomic research in Stockholm into her 80s.
All these women made an impact in their day and in their time. Some were rewarded and recognised and awarded in their lifetime, others were after they had passed on. They decided not to be ruled by the status quo, that their paths will be unique and different. You can do the same today and make the decision to be different, and make a difference to. Decide to press for progress, whether you are a woman or a man.
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Sources: Smithsonian.com, Biography.com