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Trailblazing reporter and White House Correspondent Helen Thomas was known for asking the tough questions and breaking the glass ceiling. She was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents' Association and the first female member of the Gridiron Club.
Thomas was the only member of the White House Press Corps to have her very own seat in the White House Briefing Room (front row center!) when all other seats were reserved for media outlets. She was a fixture of American politics, covering 11 Presidents from JFK to Obama. Named one of the 25 Most Influential Women in America by the World Almanac, Thomas has also received numerous awards and more than 30 honorary degrees.
Her reputation as an unrelenting reporter who asked hard hitting questions was so well known that, when asked about the difference between democracy in Cuba versus democracy in the US, Cuban leader Fidel Castro explained, "I don’t have to answer questions from Helen Thomas."
Jeanette Rankin became the first woman to hold a high government office in the US when she won election to the United State Congress in 1916. The Nineteenth Amendment, granting universal suffrage, was approved by Congress during her term, thus making Rankin, as she later noted, "... the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.”
Never married, Rankin bequeathed her estate to help mature, unemployed female workers. Thus, the Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund was founded in her name and annually educational scholarships to low-income women 35 and older across the United States. Beginning with a single 500-dollar scholarship in 1978, the fund has since awarded more than $1.8 million in scholarships to more than 700 women.
At the age of 13, Memory Banda was told by her community in Malawi that she was an adult. Like 40% of girls living there, she was pushed to attend a sex-initiation camp to ready herself for marriage. Fully aware of what went on in those camps (her sister became impregnated at the age of 11 while attending one), Memory refused to go. She took a stand for herself but didn’t stop there.
Hoping to end child marriage in her country, Memory galvanized the young women in her community who, like her sister, also had children and had forgotten how to read and write. She took their testimonials to her local leader and her community became the first in Malawi to up the legal age of marriage to 18. Memory lobbied again when a countrywide law was presented to Parliament. The law was signed in February, 2015 upping the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18. While there is still more work to be done, Memory believes that with cultural and political advocacy, every girl will be able to say, “I Can marry when I want.”
Having been heavily involved in the Woman’s Suffrage movement, Katharine Dexter McCormick had a lifelong passion for women’s rights. Throughout the 1920s she focused her efforts on birth control issues, even going as far as smuggling diaphragms from Europe to New York City. When the deaths of her husband and her mother left her with a large fortune, Katharine knew she had to do more.
In 1953, McCormick met with Gregory Goodwin Pincus who had been working on developing a hormonal birth control method. She agreed to fund his research and donated $2 million to develop and test the first oral contraceptive pill. The Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of the Pill in 1957 and today it is the leading form of contraception, used by millions of women around the world.
Name: Mildred Apenyo
Life: 1990 - Present
Occupation: Writer, Yogi, Entrepreneur
Super Power: Body Image Defender
After a man told her he wouldn’t find her sexy anymore if she lifted weights, Mildred Apenyo decided she was tired of the harassment and discrimination she faced at predominately male gyms. So she decided to open her own.
FitCliqueAfrica is Uganda’s first women-only gym and offers a range of classes with a focus on self defense. With 39% of Ugandan women experiencing some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, Apenyo hopes her classes will encourage women to be proactive about their safety. She states, “Women now have a space where they can support one another on their journeys to not just fitness but wellness as well.”
Name: Annie Oakley
Life: August 13, 1860 - November 3, 1926
Occupation: Exhibition Shooter
Super Power: Sharpshooter
One of the first American female “superstars”, Annie Oakley gained worldwide fame for her superb marksmanship abilities and sharpshooting skills. Most famous for starring in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, Annie dazzled audiences with her fierceness and earned more money than every other performer except Bill Cody himself.
Not forgetting her roots, Annie put her financial and economic power to good use by donating to charities benefitting orphans & empowering women. As the key influence of the American Cowgirl identity, Oakley proved that when given the opportunity, women are just as capable as men (and way more badass).
Name: Misty Copeland
Life: September 10, 1982 - Present
Occupation: Ballet Dancer
Super Power: Goddess of Dance
In 2007, Misty Copeland made history by becoming the third African American female soloist and first in two decades, at American Ballet Theatre. On June 30, 2015, she made history again, this time even more significant, when she became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year history.
Considered a prodigy who rose to stardom despite not starting ballet until the age of 13, Copeland has faced many challenges throughout her career including her race and body type. Yet, she persevered and her performances became events, drawing large, diverse, enthusiastic crowds to cheer her on. When asked what the future holds for her now that she has fulfilled one of her dreams, Misty responded, 'The hard work is just now starting. And I love a challenge.’
Name: Parisa Tabriz
Life: 1983 - Present
Occupation: Head of Information Security Engineering
Super Power: Cyber Warrior Princess
31-year-old Polish-Iranian-American Parisa Tabriz is an anomaly in Silicon Valley. Not only is she a woman - a gender hugely under-represented in the tech industry - but she is a boss heading up a mostly male team of 30 experts in the US and Europe. Her job? Hacking Google.
Tabriz, a “white hat” hacker, cheekily calls herself Google’s “Security Princess”. As head of the company’s information security engineering team, it is her responsibility to keep the nearly billion users of Google Chrome safe by finding vulnerabilities in their system before malicious hackers do. While many might find this crucial role to be overwhelming, her secret to success is simple - never be intimidated.
With the invasion of the Soviet Union by German forces, Russian women were called upon to assist in the war. Though women were originally barred from combat, record-breaking aviatrix Marina Raskova was tasked with organizing a trio of female bomber pilot regiments, most notably the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, to fight the German invaders.Dubbed The Night Witches by their enemies due to their stealth techniques, these badass ladies flew roughly 30,000 missions and dropped a total of 23,000 tons of bombs on the invading Nazi armies. The most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot flew over 800 missions by the end of the war and twenty-three were awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Though they didn’t have great planes, superior bombs, or even very much support for their unit, the Night Witches nonetheless became one of the most remarkable fighting forces of World War II. No magic needed.
Name: Debbie Sterling
Life: February 26, 1983 - Present