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Historical Women We Don’t Talk About Enough

To be blunt, women’s contributions to history are often ignored. In the traditional patriarchal society, the efforts of women to change the world are habitually buried or are only taught in educational settings under special circumstances. Here are five women who dedicated their lives to the betterment of the world.

 

Betty Friedan is best known as a feminist icon thanks to her work as an advocate and author. After graduating from college, Friedan entered the work force but lost her job after becoming pregnant with her second child. She became bored with the idea of playing homemaker and made it her mission to publicly explore the notion of women seeking fulfillment outside of their traditional roles.  Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique encouraged women to depart from their role’s as homemakers and pursue new opportunities for themselves. The publication of her book lead Friedan to co-found the National Organization for Woman and serve as the first president of the organization. She also helped establish the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Law (NARAL Pro-Choice America). In the political sphere, Friedan joined with Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug to create the National Women’s Political Caucus; an organization which focuses on training and supporting women candidates for elected and appointed government office. Betty Friedan may have passed away in 2006, but the organizations she helped create are still in existence today.

 

Noor Inayat Khan severed in the British Air Force and Special Operations Executive during World War II. Noor’s great-great-grandfather was a Muslim ruler of Mysore prior to the British invasion of India. This direct linage to a ruler labelled Khan a brave solider but also a royal. Before WWII Khan studied medicine, music, and also helped compile a collection of traditional Indian children’s stories. However, after the war began Khan trained as a nurse for the French Red Cross before fleeing from France to England. In England, she joined the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force and worked as a wireless operator until she was recruited to the SOE and deployed into France. Khan worked undercover with resistances forces and governed a ring of spies across Paris for three months before she was captured and executed by the Gestapo.
 

The issue surrounding mental health and treatment of individuals who are mentally ill is ongoing, but the origins of this fight began with Dorothea Dix in the 1800s. While working in a women’s prison and witnessing firsthand the inhumane treatment of mentally ill prisoners, Dix made it her life’s mission to advocate for prison reform.  Dix closely documented the prisoners’ conditions at both public and private institutions. She recounted instances of individuals being flogged, starved, chained-up, and sexually abused. Dix then presented her documentation to legislatures in Massachusetts which resulted in the expansion of state mental hospitals. She repeated this work in several other states across the country and eventually expanded into Europe. During the Civil War Dix was named superintendent of nurses and worked rigidly and efficiently to set up field hospitals, first-aid stations, and setting up training programs. After the War, Dix contracted malaria but continued to lobby for the rights of the mentally ill.

 

Born in 1862, Wells spent the majority of her life advocating against sexism, racism, and violence. As an investigative journalist, author, and activist Ida B. Wells brought international attention to the lack of intersectionality in feminist groups and mob violence against black Americans. She was often criticized by women’s suffrage organizations but this did not stop her from being active in the women’s rights movement. She was the founder of the National Association of Colored Woman’s Club, whose issues focused on civil rights and inclusion in the women’s suffrage movement. Outside of the women’s rights movement, Wells’ research on mob violence was considered radical. So much so that after her exposé on an 1892 lynching was published, local citizens burned her press and forced her out of town. Despite all of this, she remained unbothered and continued her work until her death in 1931.

 

Dolores Huerta is a New Mexico native who has spent the majority of her life as a labor rights activist and leader of the Chicano civil rights movement. She founded the Community Service Organization and Agricultural Workers Association which led to the creation of voter registration drives and advocated for economic improvements for Hispanics. She later joined with César Chávez to found the National Farm Workers Association which changed to the United Farm Workers’ Union. Huerta served as the vice president of the UFW from its creation until 1999. Huerta helped organize strikes and boycotts, negotiated contracts, and bring about the elimination of pesticides that were harmful to the workers. She also advocated for the unemployment and healthcare benefits for agricultural workers.

 

These five women and countless others have gone above and beyond to contribute to the world in a positive way. Their inspiring stories which transcend race, status, and class show that any women can be an influence on history.

 

Miquela Gorham is a lover of dogs and chai tea enthusiast. She considers herself to an advocate for women's rights and prides herself on being both forbearing and pragmatic. Miquela is currently a senior at New Mexico State University majoring in Sociology with a supplementary major in Law and Society.
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