Underappreciated Women in History

There are many women throughout history who are given recognition for their accomplishments, and many who have been overlooked. In honor of Women's History Month (or Her-story), here is a little about some of those women. I encourage you to learn more about each of these women and others I did not mention; their stories are truly remarkable.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)

  • She was the author of the famous Uncle Tom’s Cabin book. This novel was what brought much attention to the horrors of slavery in the United States. Her work has been credited as what accelerated the abolition movement.

Harriet Tubman (1820-1910)

  • While not entirely unknown, Tubman is still not acknowledged nearly enough. She was born a slave and later became the most famous member of the Underground Railroad. She was a Civil War nurse, an abolitionist, an advocate for the Women’s Suffrage Movement, a Civil Rights activist, and the first woman to conduct an armed military raid.

Clara Barton (1821-1912)

  • She was a famous Civil War nurse, who later formed the American Red Cross and the National First Aid Association of America.

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

  • She was a famous chemist and physicist who is known for her research on radioactivity. She won the Nobel Prize twice for her work and was the first woman professor at the University of Paris. It’s also worth noting she is the only person who has ever won more than one Nobel Prize for science, as well as the first woman to win one.

Alexandra David-Neel (1868-1969)

  • She was one of the most famous travelers in the 20th century. She left her husband to travel to Tibet. She crossed the Alps, rode a bicycle through Europe, studied religions and cultures such as Hinduism (in India) and Buddhism (in China). When she returned home after fourteen years, David-Neel spent her time creating some of the most important travel books in history. At the age of 70, she returned to her adventures, and lived to be 100 years old.

Frances Perkins (1880-1965)

  • She was the first woman in a U.S. president’s cabinet. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt, Perkins became the Secretary of Labor and was the second-longest-serving cabinet member.  

Elizabeth Kenny (1880-1952)

  • She was a nurse who created a new way of treating polio. When Australia wouldn’t take her work seriously, she went elsewhere -- to Great Britain and the United States. There, her treatment and cure of polio became revolutionary, though she is still not remembered as a “medical genius.”

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995)

  • She was the first woman to be a member of the United States Congress.

Grace Hopper (1906-1992)

  • She was a naval officer, mathematics genius, and “computer pioneer.” She discovered and showed how computers could be programed to be more accessible to everyday people. She even became the Data Processing Management Association’s first Man of the Year in 1969.

Irena Sendler (1910-2008)

  • She saved 2,500 children during the Holocaust from the Warsaw ghetto. Even when she was arrested and tortured, she wouldn’t reveal the identities of those children or the people she was working with. Later, after her escape, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

  • She was a Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity, active in 133 countries. They help those suffering from various illnesses, run soup kitchens, orphanages, and schools, and more. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She was beatified in 1999, and canonised in 2015.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

  • She was a brilliant poet, activist, and author/memoirist. She is not entirely unappreciated as her work is taught in many schools, but she deserves far more credit. She was also once a cook, a sex worker, a dancer at a nightclub, a member of an opera, a journalist in Africa during decolonization, and so on. She was well-known for her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and her poem “Still I Rise.” She was credited with being a spokesperson for Black people and women.

Corazon Aquino (1933-2009)

  • She was the first woman president in the Philippines and in Asia. She helped lead the People Power Revolution which restored democracy in her country. She also was given the title of Time’s Woman of the Year in 1986. She helped to create her country’s new constitution that actually limited the powers of the president and created a congress.

Claudette Colvin (1939-present)

  • Before Rosa Parks, there was Colvin. She was a young African-American woman who resisted segregation by refusing to give up her seat on a bus. She was arrested, and later her case was what lead to the overturning of segregation laws in Alabama. It’s not entirely known why Parks got recognition while Colvin didn’t, but it has been assumed to be everything from her young age (fifteen), to the darker shade of her skin and teen pregnancy.

Angela Davis (1944-present)

  • She is a famous political activist and academic. She is known for being a leader of the Communist Party USA in the 1960s, as well as being closely tied to the Black Panther Party and the Civil Rights Movement. She was a professor at UC Santa Cruz. She co-founded an organization aimed at ending the prison-industrial complex, called Critical Resistance.

Sarah Weddington (1945-present)

  • She is the lawyer who represented Norma “Jane Roe” McCorvey in the famous Supreme Court case: Roe v. Wade. This was the case that made abortions during the first trimester legal in the United States, as it was previously illegal or highly limited throughout the country.

Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson (1945-1992)

  • She was an activist during the AIDS pandemic, for gay rights, transgender rights, and a drag queen. She worked with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, doing things such as fighting against the inaccessibility to expensive experimental drugs for AIDS patients. She was said to have been the one who initiated the Stonewall Riot, the event that sparked the Gay Rights Movement -- though people of color and women were given little recognition.

Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002)

  • She was one of the early LGBTQ+ activists, most known for her involvement in the Stonewall Riot. When she worked with the Gay Activists Alliance, she helped to pass a bill called the New York City Gay Rights Bill. She even climbed city hall in heels and a dress to “crash a closed-door meeting.” She co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) aiming to assist homeless youths. She supposedly was one of the first to throw a bottle at the Stonewall Riot -- at the time she seventeen.