The most amazing female leaders that history books forgot
When we think of history’s most highly regarded heroines, we often think of the same well-known league of extraordinary women. Some that come to mind almost immediately – and covered extensively in history classes around the world – are Queen Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Margaret Thatcher, Marie Curie, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale and Helen Keller, just to name a few.
But, have you ever heard of the formidable Beatrice Potter Webb? How about the contributions of Ethel L. Payne? Maybe you’ve read about the honorable actions of Murasaki Shikibu? No? That’s ok.
To be honest, this is the first time I’ve heard of them, too. And, I’m glad to have been introduced to their work in women’s history through an infographic created by the Brighton School of Business and Management entitled, “The Most Amazing Female Leaders that History Books Forgot.”
Highlighted in the image are 10 women often left out of lectures and history television programs but whose legacies modern women shouldn’t forget. They, in their own interests and industries paved the way for the opportunities we as women take for granted. Without them, we may not have the chance we have now to explore, achieve and revel in accomplishing our personal missions in life.
As a salute to them, here are interesting facts about 10 women who deserve the spotlight once again.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
Born near Bristol, England in 1821, Dr. Blackwell moved with her family to the United States at the age of 11. Despite discouragement from her fellow students and the standards of society, she became the first woman to graduate from medical school in the U.S.
In addition to this incredible feat, she also created a medical school especially for women in the late 1860s. According to Bio.com, she later returned to home country, setting up her very own private practice in London. There, she served as a lecturer at the London School of Medicine for Women. When she retired in 1877, she moved to Hastings where she died in her home on May 31, 1910.
Annie Smith Peck
This mountaineer broke the mold of her time by not only setting records for mountain climbing and mastering such natural wonders as the Citlaltépetl volcano, Monte Cristallo and Mount Huascarán, but by also wearing trousers – gasp – while doing it.
Born on October 19, 1850, in Providence, Rhode Island, and later working as a scholar and Latin teacher, she picked up the sport of mountain climbing while it was still relatively new and there were few other females involved. There was also little equipment available at the time to assist climbers like Peck with high altitudes, such as oxygen tanks, Bio.com confirms.
Peck died in New York City on July 18, 1935 shortly after achieving a lifelong goal of climbing the Acropolis in Athens.
Mary Lou Williams
Best known for being the first woman to found a record label, Williams hailed from Atlanta Georgia where she was born a musical prodigy on May 8, 1910. Though she moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she grew up, her piano training by her mother and raw talent took her many places afterward, spanning decades of changing music.
She first appeared professionally as Mary Lou Burley (which was her stepfather’s last name, according to Bio.com), in small venues like gambling dens. But, when after she met and married saxophonist John Williams while performing with him as a teenager, she changed her last name and followed her husband to Kansas City, where she became a pillar of the swing scene and eventually blues and bebop.
She died on May 28, 1981, at age 71, in Durham, North Carolina.
Though born as a slave in the town of Swartekill, in Ulster County, New York around 1797 (according to historians’ estimation since slaves’ births weren’t usually documented at the time), she left this world in 1883 not only a free woman, but moreover, an advocate of abolition and women’s rights.
Her speech on racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a Woman?” delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851 is her most well-known triumph. You can learn more about her memoir here on Bio.com.
Beatrice Potter Webb
Beatrice Potter was born on Jan. 2, 1858, at Standish House near Gloucester.
She and her husband, Sidney Webb, joined forces in their projects for social and educational reform through research on history of political and economic institutions.
She was the co-founder of the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Beatrice Webb died at Liphook, Hampshire, on April 30, 1943. In 1947, shortly after Sidney’s death, their ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey.
British-born in 1878, she was the first woman in the world to build a plane and fly it. Lilian Bland named her plane the Mayfly as in it “may fly, may not fly.”
She started off as a sports photographer and journalist, taking never-before-seen photos of hunting in action.
Bland loved horses above all other sports and attempted to ride in the Grand National, only to be refused because she was a woman. Later, she became a frontier pioneer in Canada.
Bland retired to Cornwall in 1955 where many people still remember her to this day.
The Japanese woman who wrote the extraordinary Tale of Genji a thousand years ago is apparently only known by a nickname. Her given name went unrecorded as a normal practice for daughters at the time.
Murasaki was born into a lesser branch of the powerful Fujiwara family, whose males occupied most of the highest positions in the imperial government.
Apart from her penning the widely considered first novel in human history, The Tale of Genji, she left a collection of her poetry and a fragmentary diary devoted largely to events at the palace in 1008, as reported by Harvard Magazine.
Interestingly, she mentions that she rebelliously learned Chinese by listening outside the door while her father taught her brother, and that later she gave the empress lessons in reading Chinese poetry.
Harvard Magazine also notes that she last appears in a record dating from 1013, and may have died the following year.
Further, her daughter, probably born in 999, became a distinguished poet.
The girl who was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran on May 5, 1864 in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania would later take on the pseudonym Nellie Bly while helping to launch a new kind of investigative journalism as a means to support her mother so that she could leave her abusive husband.
As reported by PBS, Bly’s groundbreaking story about the mentally ill housed at a large institution in New York City – a scoop she captured by acting as a mad patient for 10 days, reporting cruel beatings, ice cold baths and forced meals with “rancid butter.”
She was employed by the New York Journal when she died from pneumonia, in 1922, at the age of 57.
Ethel L. Payne
The Washington Post published a great piece on the granddaughter of slaves and the daughter of a Pullman porter, Ethel L. Payne. She had been working as a clerk in a Chicago library before snagging a big career break, joining the staff of the nation’s leading black newspaper, the Chicago Defender.
A standout moment in her career is described beautifully in The Washington Post piece:
She stood nervously before the president as one of only three accredited African Americans in the White House press corps.
‘Mr. President,’ she began in her famously deep voice when Eisenhower called on her, ‘we were very happy last week when the deputy attorney general sent a communication to the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee saying that there was a legal basis for passing a law to ban segregation in interstate travel. . . . I would like to know if we could assume that we have administration support in getting action on this?’
Payne died almost 25 years ago, and was honored in 2002, as one of four female journalists with a likeness on a U.S. postage stamp.
Anna Nzinga Mbandi
Queen Nzinga Mbande was debatably ruthless but was certainly powerful.
Her accomplishments are detailed in the site devoted to amazing women, fittingly called Amazing Women In History. This 17th century African ruler of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms, which is modern-day Angola, fought for the freedom and stature of her kingdoms against the Portuguese colonies trying to take over the land at the time.
Unlike many other contemporaries, Nzinga was one of the only rulers able to adapt to changing circumstances and fluctuations in power brought on by colonization. Instead of giving in to the pressures of intruders, she transformed her kingdom into a strong commercial state that was considered as equally intimidating as the Portuguese colonies.
By the time of Nzinga’s death in 1661, she was 81 years old.