Women You Haven’t Heard of but Should Be Celebrated

As Women’s History Month nears its end, I want to highlight the contributions of women who, though not as well known throughout history, have been no less instrumental. So...*drumroll please*...here’s to these wonderful women in no particular order:

1. Enheduanna

We begin in Mesopotamia, 2285 BC. Enheduanna, a Sumerian/Akkadian priestess, was the first person in history to be known as an author. She wrote the Sumerian Temple Hymns, which consist of 42 hymns, poems, and prayers. Some of her other works include three compelling hymns that helped unify the Sumerian and Akkadian religions and poems to Inanna, the goddess of love, fertility, and war. Her name is actually a Sumerian title that translates to ‘En’ (Chief Priestess); ‘Hedu’ (ornament); ‘Ana’ (of heaven).

2. Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi

Born in 1865, Joshi was one of the first Indian female physicians. She married her husband when she was around nine years old and had her first child at 14. However, because her first child died in ten days due to a lack of healthcare, she decided that she wanted to become a doctor to help improve healthcare in India. Thus, she enrolled in the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, which is now the College of Medicine in Drexel University. She went against traditional societal norms, which did not support women’s higher education. Joshi was also one of the first women to get a Western medical degree. Tragically, she died a year after her graduation due to tuberculosis and never got a chance to practice medicine. However, Joshi is now hailed as a trailblazer due to her persistence in molding her own destiny.

3. Vitka Kempner

Kempner was a Jewish woman who led the first known resistance against the Nazis in occupied Europe. Originally from Poland, Kempner fled to Vilna, Lithuania when the Germans invaded. After hearing about the Nazi death camps, she decided to join a chapter of Hashomer Hatzair, a Zionist youth group. This group, led by Abba Kovner, later became ‘Ha-Nokmim’ — the Avengers. Kempner orchestrated one of the first acts of sabotage against the Nazis by using a homemade bomb to explode a Nazi train line. She was also responsible for coating around 3000 loaves of bread meant for Nazi POWs with arsenic. It is estimated that this bread sickened around 1900 Germans. She also helped thousands of European Jews flee to British-occupied Palestine. After the war, she settled down in Israel and became a clinical psychologist. All in all, she was clearly an admirable woman for risking her life to fight against the Nazis and to help those in need.

4. Töregene Khatun

A regent of the Mongol empire (arguably one of the largest empires of the world), Khatun ruled after her husband’s death in 1241 until 1246. She was married to Ögedei, the third son of Genghis Khan, after Genghis Khan defeated her tribe, the Merkids. Ögedei was chosen as Genghis Khan’s heir. However, he was an alcoholic and an incompetent leader, so Töregene took charge and exercised her influence. By convention, she was supposed to call an assembly of the Mongolian nobles to appoint the next ruler after Ögedei’s death, but she postponed this in order to consolidate her own power. She dismissed Ögedei’s ministers and appointed her own. She also gave one of the most important roles in the court to her servant and confidant, Fatima, who was even referred to as ‘khatun’ (queen). Little is known about the nature of their relationship. Nevertheless, Töregene heavily influenced the political landscape of the region. She backed her son Guyuk as her successor and eventually handed the throne to him. However, he turned on Töregene by removing everyone she had appointed, undoing her laws, and executing Fatima for witchcraft. Töregene should be recognized for her daing spirit as she secured power in a world in which realms were controlled  by men.

5. Bessie Stringfield

Stringfield was the first African-American woman to ride a motorcycle alone across the United States. Using a neighbor’s bike, she taught herself how to ride the vehicle and took frequent and independent trips. Whenever her motorcycle would break down, she would also fix it by herself as no one would help her. When she moved to Miami, she was denied a driver’s license, prompting her to complain to a police captain. She managed to impress him by performing all the difficult stunts in the test that he gave her. The same captain was her instructor in World War II when she joined a unit as the only female civilian motorcycle dispatch rider. She would carry documents to different bases by riding on her Harley-Davidson bike. Stringfield was inducted in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002. She continues to inspire people as she dared to compete in motorcycle races when it was socially unacceptable for women to be riding motorcycles.

Although this article is meant to celebrate women who have been ackowledged less in history, there are plenty more whom we have not mentioned. However, don't let that stop you from admiring your own female-identifying icons. In fact, start by appreciating the women who are already present in your daily life. Because they are some of the most awe-inspiring people out there.