Amazing Women You May Not Know About, Part 1


You need to know about these women from history. On March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. Here at Mothering, we want to start the celebrations early, so every week in March we will introduce you to three important women who changed the world.

Dedicated to the achievements of women worldwide, International Women’s Day asks people across the globe to acknowledge the influence women have on society, history and our daily lives. The first three women we chose to feature defied the limiting gender roles of their time, and changed the course of history.

women's history month

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695)

Who is she?
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz showed an early aptitude for scholarship, teaching herself to read Latin at age 3 by hiding in her grandfather’s study in what is now Mexico. She went on to become a nun and is credited with writing the first feminist manifesto in the New World.

“One can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.” (With a nod to an Aragonese poet and  St. Teresa of Ávila)

“Who has forbidden women to engage in private and individual studies? Have they not a rational soul as men do?…I have this inclination to study and if it is evil I am not the one who formed me thus – I was born with it and with it I shall die.”

Born to a Criolla woman during the Spanish occupation of present-day Mexico, she spent her early life helping her mother at her grandfather’s estate and trying to avoid detection as she devoured his books. It was not appropriate for girls to read or study, so at age 12 she asked her mother if she could dress as a boy and attend a school in Mexico City. Her mother said no.

Instead, she became a lady-in-waiting at the colonial viceroy’s court, where she amazed many visiting scholars with her brilliance and philosophy, including in private discussions with Issac Newton.

Related: Busy Moms Make These 5 Health Mistakes

While still very young, she became a nun so that she could be left alone to pursue her studies and writing. Without this action, she knew she would be expected to marry and care for a family. During her time as a nun, she was a critic of the church and penned a now-famous letter “Respuesta,” where she defends women’s right to education.

Learn more about her:
Juana Inés (2016): Netflix Original mini-series
Hunger’s Brides (2004) by Canadian novelist Paul Anderson

How we can be like her
If you’re gifted with the desire for learning, then you should keep learning. Get the degree that you want. Learn another language. Read more books. Talk with others about your ideas. You have good ideas that the world needs.

If you encounter opposition on your journey, it does not mean you have made a mistake. In fact, you may be making history.

women's history

Huda Sha’arawi (1879–1947)

Who is she?
Huda Sha’arawi was born into the harem system in Egypt but made her way onto the world stage, working for women’s suffrage, education, and freedom of dress.

“Men have singled out women of outstanding merit and put them on a pedestal to avoid recognizing the capabilities of all women.”

Born to a wealthy family, she spent her early years secluded in an Egyptian harem. She was married to her cousin at age 13, but spent much of her time away from him, studying under female tutors.

Related: 10 Inventions By Women That Changed the World

She resented the limits of the harem system and began organizing lectures for that brought women into public places for the first time. She astounded people by venturing out to a department store to buy her own clothes, instead of having them brought to her.

Throughout her work, she organized women for a philanthropic society to raise money for the poor women of Egypt, started “L’Égyptienne,” a periodical for women, and worked in politics for Egyptian and women’s rights.

Her most legendary action was very simple. On her way back from a women’s suffrage conference in Rome, she removed her face veil in a busy train station. There was a moment of silence, and then applause. Some of the other women in the crowd also removed their veils. It took less than 10 years for the majority of Egyptian women to follow suit.

Learn more about her
Casting off the Veil by Sania Sharawi Lanfranchi
Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist by Sha’arawi

How we can be like her
It doesn’t take much to make a difference. If you feel strongly about something, act on it. Just do something. Take one step.

Work to support the women around you. If you think of something that would improve your lives, get people together and make it happen.

Women's history month notables

Fanny Blankers-Koen (1918-2004)

Who is she?
Fanny Blankers-Koen (1918-2004) was a Dutch Olympian who won four gold medals while pregnant with her third child. She was voted female athlete of the 20th century by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

“All I’ve done is run fast. I don’t see why people should make much fuss about that.”

“One newspaperman wrote that I was too old to run, that I should stay at home and take care of my children. When I got to London, I pointed my finger at him and I said: ‘I show you.’”

Fanny Blankers-Koen was a natural athlete from her early years in the Netherlands. She decided to focus on track at the suggestion of one of her early coaches. She went on to marry her first Olympic coach and train with him throughout WWII, even though the Olympics were cancelled and food was scarce.

She gave birth to her first child during the German occupation, and the media assumed her career was over. Women in athletics was still a touchy subject and there were very few female, married athletes. So the idea that she would compete as a mother was almost preposterous.

Related: The Flex Mom: A New Model for Motherhood

Compete, she did, however, and she won four gold medals in the 1948 London Olympics.  After her first win, she almost dropped out because she was so homesick. After talking with her husband on the phone, she decided to stay and went on to win another three golds though she almost missed the relay race because she went shopping for a raincoat. She was pregnant with her third child at the time.

Learn more about her
Smithsonian Magazine
Extraordinary Women Athletes by Judy L Hasday

How we can be like her
Just do what you do. Even when you have little kids at home. You are still you. Do what makes you happy. Do what you’re good at. Do it for your country, do it for your name. In whatever moments you can snatch: this, too, is part of your purpose.

Image credits: wikimedia commons; wikimedia commonswikimedia commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *