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What You Don’t Know about History’s Famous Women

Who wrote the world’s first novel? Could there have once been a female pope? What’s the difference between first-, second-, and third-wave feminism anyway? It’s that time of year again — March is Women’s History Month!

Women’s History Month began with the creation of Women’s History Week by a California school district in 1978. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 National Women’s History Week. The date was chosen to include International Women’s Day, first celebrated in 1911 and sponsored by the United Nations since 1975. The popularity of the event led to its expansion from a week to a month, with Congress designating March as Women’s History Month in 1987. Since 1995, U.S. presidents have released annual declarations recognizing March as Women’s History Month.

Thanks to increasing interest in women’s history, we’ve come a long way in mainstream academia and public awareness since 1978. In honor of Women’s History Month, Her Campus is highlighting just some of the many amazing heroines, unsung pioneers, and crazy fun facts in the long history of Herstory. There’s just so much great material — even about the icons of womanhood you think you know. We’ve prepared a quick quiz limited to famous females you’re probably already familiar with. If the incredible facts about women who have already gotten their due in history books and popular culture surprise you, just imagine all the stories about all the women who haven’t. Enjoy!  


1) This movement trained its members in jujitsu to protect its leaders from police.

2) At age 14, this future humanitarian was raising money for the Dutch resistance in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands as a ballet dancer in underground performances that raised funds to fight the Third Reich. She also served as a courier for the rebels, carrying secret messages in her ballet slippers.

3) This organization was one of the first in the United States to desegregate, beginning a national effort to integrate all chapters as early as the 1950s. Martin Luther King Jr. praised this group as “a force for desegregation” in 1956.

5) This former Playboy Bunny married David Bale, the father of Christian Bale.

4) The creator of this famous fictional character was also the inventor of the lie detector. He also had a rather unorthodox home life, living in a threesome with two women who jointly raised the children. One was an early feminist and career woman and the other was the niece of Margaret Sanger.


1) The women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century deserves much credit for, you know, getting women the right to vote, but to modern women, the suffragettes might have seemed kind of stuffy, what with their hats and frilly dresses. Except they weren’t. Suffragettes included in their ranks one Edith Margaret Garrud, one of the first female professional martial arts instructors in the Western world. When the British government began targeting leaders of the women’s suffrage movement for arrest, the Women’s Social and Political Union responded by establishing a 30-member, all-woman Bodyguard unit, with Garrud training members in martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, and various weapons, including Indian clubs. Reports of Bodyguard standoffs with the police and of the 4’ 11’’ Garrud flipping officers caught the attention of the press, who, for real, coined the term “suffra-jitsu”.

2) The beloved icon Audrey Hepburn is well remembered for her astonishing beauty, her celebrated movie career, her world-class style, her humanitarian work (she was a UNICEF ambassador before it was cool), and her overall kindness and class. She was pretty much the best example of a real-life Disney Princess — which was appropriate enough, seeing as her mother was bona fide royalty (a Belgian baroness). Cartoon birds and woodland creatures probably would have helped her get dressed, if she didn’t already have Givenchy for that.

Oh, and she also risked her life to help defeat the Nazis. At 14. With ballet. 

3) Since its foundation in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low, the Girl Scouts of America has had national recognition for its empowerment of young girls and its amazing licensed cookies. It has also been an organization ahead of its time in its commitment to tolerance and diversity. Besides its history of inclusiveness across racial and class barriers, in recent years it has been supportive of LGBT rights as well, with a Colorado troop making headlines after admitting a 7-year-old transgender girl in 2011. Former Girl Scouts also tend to go on to do amazing things in adulthood: 68% of women in Congress, 93% of female astronauts, and all three of the women who have been U.S. Secretaries of States were Girl Scouts. 

4) The most famous female superhero was, like most early comic book characters, created by a man, William Moulton Marston, but she was inspired by two women with serious feminist street cred. Marston’s wife, Elizabeth “Sadie” Holloway, received three degrees in an era when few women had higher education and worked as a psychologist, lecturer, and editor even after marriage and motherhood — in fact, she was the primary breadwinner of the family. Olive Byrne was the niece of Margaret Sanger, pioneer of the birth control movement and founder of Planned Parenthood, and the daughter of Ethel Byrne, Sanger’s sister and the first suffragette to go on a hunger strike. Though many of Marston’s views were, ahem, unusual — he built an elaborate ideology around bondage, reflected in many comics of Amazons bound or in chains — he was always blunt about his intention to create a character who personified women’s liberation and empowerment. Many of Wonder Woman’s early adventures were inspired by the woman’s suffrage movement and pitted her against villains motivated primarily by antifeminism. 

5) Gloria Steinem. In 1963, the activist often seen as the leader of the 1960s feminist movement went undercover as a Playboy Bunny in the New York Playboy Club for an expose on the exploitative working conditions and sexual demands placed on the Bunnies. In 2000, she married David Bale, father of Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale, at the age of 66. Addressing her earlier criticism of marriage as an institution, she explained, “I didn’t change. Marriage changed. We spent 30 years in the United States changing the marriage laws. If I had married when I was supposed to get married, I would have lost my name, my legal residence, my credit rating, many of my civil rights. That’s not true anymore. It’s possible to make an equal marriage.”

That’s pretty interesting trivia, you might be thinking. But isn’t it kind of demeaning to reduce Gloria Steinem’s life and career to “this former Playboy Bunny married David Bale, the father of Christian Bale”? Especially since she did so much more than that (founding Ms. Magazine, founding the National Women’s Political Caucus, telling Stephen Colbert ‘you’re pretty too’)? Of course you would be right. But considering how often attacks on a woman’s femininity are used to discredit feminism, with generation after generation of advocates for women’s rights mocked as ugly, bitter spinsters who can’t get a man and consume their children with their vagina dentata, it’s so very delicious to savor the irony that the most famous modern feminist activist was not only conventionally attractive enough to work (undercover) as a Playboy Bunny, but she, essentially, adopted Batman. Put aside for one second the idea that ‘womanhood’ is about more than physical beauty or gender roles limited to that of wife and mother, that it should also include intelligence, strength, and an individual’s choice. By these standards, Gloria Steinem is still more woman than any of her “Princeton Mom”-type antifeminist detractors. Checkmate (for) feminism.

This is a sponsored feature. All opinions are 100% our own.

Aimee Lim is a junior at UC Davis, pursuing an English major with an emphasis in Creative Writing as well as a minor in Biology. Besides writing and editing for Her Campus at UCD, she is interning as a middle school's teacher's assistant and for the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency. She also volunteers for the UCD Center for Advocacy, Research, and Education (CARE), which combats campus sexual assault, domestic/dating violence, and stalking. An aspiring novelist, her greatest achievement is an honorable mention in the Lyttle Lytton "Worst Opening Lines to a (Fictional) Novel" contest. Besides writing, she loves reading, movies, music, women's history, and feminism.Follow her blog at https://lovecaution.wordpress.com.  
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