As many may know, March is Women's History Month. It is a time to honour, value and recognize women who have made contributions with lasting impacts on our society.
Women from around the world and different time periods have inspired us into achieving our dreams and fighting for what is right. This could mean women in the sciences or the arts, or women in technology or fashion. The women I will be talking about are only a small fraction of the many individuals who have made enduring impacts on our society.
So, in honour of Women’s History Month, here are (in no particular order) 9 women to remember.
1. Maria Skłodowska-Curie
Marie Curie, née Maria Skłodowska, was born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland. She was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize and the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes. Along with her husband Pierre Curie, she discovered radioactivity and two radioactive elements known as Radium and Polonium. She had two children with Pierre: Irène and Ève.
After Pierre died in 1906, she furthered her research on radioactivity and X-rays. Her life is featured in many films including Radioactive. Her determination and perseverance have inspired many to face challenges and never give up. Maria died on July 4, 1934, in Sancellemoz due to her exposure to radioactivity.
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
- Marie Curie
2. Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr, born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914, was an Austrian-born American actress, film producer and inventor. She starred in many movies over her 28-year long acting career.
Along with her friend, George Antheil, she invented the “Secret Communications System” which was a radio signalling device used to change radio frequencies to stop the enemies from decoding messages. This is called “frequency-hopping”. The technology is used to this day to protect military communications, for cellular phone communications and remains the basis of our home Wi-Fi systems. Hedy Lamarr was a resilient and hard-working woman who remains an inspiration to many.
Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. The unknown was always so attractive to me...and still is.
- Hedy Lamarr
3. Julia Child
Born on August 15, 1915, Julia Child was one of the first women to host her own cooking show on television and made French cuisine available to American viewers. After she and her husband Paul moved to Paris when he was reassigned to the U.S. Information Service at the American Embassy, she attended the well-known Cordon Bleu cooking school.
From there, her love for cooking only grew over her 6 months of training. She and two of her colleagues, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, co-wrote the bestselling cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. Julia also wasn’t afraid to show her American audience that it was OK to make mistakes and that making mistakes is part of the learning process. Julia died on August 13, 2004.
The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.
- Julia Child
4. Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson was an African-American born mathematician and NASA employee born on August 26, 1918, whose calculations were crucial to the success of the first and successive U.S. crewed space flights. She had a passion for mathematics and had even skipped a few grades in her school years.
In 1962, NASA was preparing to send John Glenn on an orbital mission. Katherine was asked to go through the same calculations as the computers in charge of the mission because the astronauts knew that the computers were susceptible to hiccups and blackouts. Katherine remembered that John Glenn had said “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.” This mission was a success.
Not only was Katherine Johnson an inspiration because she had the passion and determination to accomplish great things, but she was also an incredibly hard-working Black woman who was an important part of various space missions. Her calculations helped Apollo 11 land on the moon and come back to Earth in 1969. She was one of the few Black women in her group, continuously promoting racial equality and breaking stereotypes. She remains an inspiration to women pursuing careers in math and the sciences. Her life is featured in the film Hidden Figures. Katherine died at the age of 101 years on February 24, 2020.
Girls are capable of everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.
- Katherine Johnson
5. Viola Desmond
Born on July 6, 1914, in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada, Viola Irene Desmond, née Davis, was a Canadian businesswoman, civil rights activist and beautician. She owned the Desmond School of Beauty Culture through which she mentored young black women in Nova Scotia. However, she is best known for what happened on November 8, 1946.
Viola was on a business trip to Sydney, Nova Scotia, to sell her beauty products when her car broke down and needed repairs. While waiting, she decided to go see a movie at the Roseland Film Theatre in New Glasgow. The Theatre’s main floor seats were reserved for White people, and unaware of this, being sold a ticket to the balcony, she went to sit in the floor section to be closer to the screen. She was then asked to move, which she refused. She requested to pay an additional cost for the main floor ticket but was instead forcefully removed from her seat, causing an injury to her hip. After this, she was arrested and spent 12 hours in jail.
With the support of the Minister William Pearly Oliver and his wife Pearline, Viola fought the charge in court. Her actions played a significant role in fighting against segregation in Canada. Her face is featured on the Canadian 10 dollar bill. Viola died on February 7, 1965, in New York.
You thought that wearing a dress would make a difference in the way people see and think about you, but it didn't. You have to be yourself, Wanda, and stand up for yourself or you won't get along anywhere.
- Viola Desmond (speaking to her sister Wanda)
6. Raymonde de Laroche
Raymonde de Laroche was born on August 22, 1882, in Paris France. She was the first woman to pilot a plane and was the world's first licensed female pilot. From a young age, she was interested in sports, motorcycles and automobiles. Being inspired by the Wright Brothers' flying demonstrations in 1908, Raymonde decided that she would be an aviator herself.
A year later, in 1909, she called on her friend, Charles Voisin, to teach her how to fly. Even though the plane only had space for one person and Charles had to give instructions from the ground, Raymonde successfully managed to lift off and fly 300 yards. Raymonde received her pilot's license on March 8, 1910, becoming the first woman to ever receive one. Throughout her life, Raymonde defied stereotypes. She died on July 18, 1919, in a plane crash.
Flying does not rely so much on strength, as on physical and mental co-ordination.
- Raymonde de Laroche
7. Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in Mexico City, Mexico. She began painting after she became severely injured in a bus accident. Most of her paintings were self-portraits and reflected many of the physical and emotional challenges in her life. In 1929, Frida married the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He was very supportive of Frida and her artwork. However, Frida and Diego constantly went through phases of separation and getting back together. In 1939, Frida divorced Diego, but this didn't last long as they re-married in 1940.
Frida was a very resilient woman who broke a lot of barriers and who's admired today as a feminist icon. She died on July 13, 1954, in Mexico City.
I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.
- Frida Kahlo
8. Mae C. Jemison
Born on October 17, 1956, Mae Jemison was the first African American woman in space. She was an astronaut and physician who flew into space on September 12, 1992, along with six other astronauts aboard the space shuttle Endeavour.
At a young age, Mae knew she was destined to fly into space. She was also a passionate dancer. Mae was fascinated by science and especially spent a lot of time reading about astronomy. In 1987, she was the first African American woman admitted into the NASA astronaut training program and she was the first African-American woman to fly into space in 1992.
Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It's your place in the world; it's your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.
- Mae Jemison
9. Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper was born in New York on December 9, 1906, into a well-to-do household. Ever since she was a little girl, she would be trying to figure out how things worked, taking apart and reassembling her family's alarm clocks. She joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 and was assigned to program the Mark I computer and naturally, learned everything there was to know about it, even though she was a mathematician and not a computer programmer. She noticed that a moth was caught in a relay wire, and it was causing a malfunction. To this day, a computer program problem is called a “bug.”
Grace invented the first compiler: a program designed to translate programming code to machine language and helped develop COBOL (Common Business Operating Language) a computer programming language which became universally-accepted.
In 1986, when Grace retired at the age of 79, she was a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral. She was a remarkable, feisty and eccentric woman. Grace died on January 1, 1992.
If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It's much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.
- Grace Hopper
Each of these 9 women was remarkable in their own way and shows that if we put our mind to something, we will achieve it. If you have big dreams and goals, work hard, and it will pay off. Stand up for what you believe is right. Speak out. Do what they say you can't achieve. Prove that you are a strong and brilliant woman, because you are.
Happy International Women's Month!