Every single one of my history classes has thus far been the chronicle of world events as told by men about men. However, this is not because women did not have a profound effect on history or the world. Yes, we learn about some influential women, but most have been forgotten or buried in the margins of textbook. But, below is a list of seven unexpectedly inspirational women who have certainly made their mark on the world and have helped make HIStory HERstory.
1. Coco Chanel
"In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different”
Whether it’s the familiar scent of Chanel no 5 on your classy aunt or the covet-worthy quilted purse in the window of Saks, we all know the Chanel name. The iconic Chanel logo however would not be possible without its even more iconic founder Coco Chanel. Although a fashion designer, Chanel irrevocably changed the world for women. She turned the fashion world on its head by liberating women from the hated corset in favor of a more comfortable yet still elegant style. She also pioneered her famous “Chanel suit” thus empowering working women. Through the art of fashion, Chanel taught, and still continues to teach, women to break free from societal norms and constraints. She proves that women can both be well-dressed and feminine as well as strong and independent.
2. Temple Grandin
"The world needs different kinds of minds to work together."
Temple Grandin is arguably one of the most inspirational human beings to date. She is not only a renowned animal behavioral specialist, but is also on the Autism spectrum. Because of Temple’s disability, she faced many unique difficulties growing up.
For instance, she did not begin speaking until she was three and a half years old. She was also ridiculed and harassed by her school mates in high school because of her differences. Her disability caused strife even within her own family; her mother and father divorced when she was 15 largely because of the stresses of raising Temple. Despite her struggles, Temple eventually found her passion for science and animals.
With the support of her mother, teachers, therapists and loved ones, she went on to receive her doctoral in animal science. Additionally, she has become a major spokesperson for Autism and has served as an inspiration to thousands worldwide. Temple Grandin shows us that no matter what obstacles or hardships we face in life, we can still achieve both greatness and happiness through perseverance and dedication.
3. Lise Meitner
"Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity; it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep awe and joy that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist."
Lise Meitner was an Austrian physicist who, alongside chemist Otto Hahn, discovered Nuclear fission. Meitner was an absolutely brilliant scientist, and collaborated on research at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute with Hahn. The two had not only become a scientific powerhouse, but also close friends.
Meitner was on the verge of a breakthrough, but was forced to flee the country because of the anti-Jewish Nazi regime. Via letters, she continued to collaborate with Hahn, and they eventually discovered nuclear fission. However, Otto Hahn and co-collaborator Fritz Strassman took all credit for the discovery and excluded her from the publication as well as subsequent accolades including the Nobel Prize. Despite this heartbreak, Meitner still proves to the world that women can be and are exceptional scientists, whether or not they are given the due credit.
4. Josephine Baker
"Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one's soul, when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood."
Josephine Baker was born in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. She had a difficult childhood rattled with extreme poverty and racism. Often times she was hungry, and while working as an in-house domestic was abused. At age 13 she was married, but left shortly after to pursue her passion for theater as a vaudeville performer.
She became a hugely successful and widely popular dancer. She eventually moved to Paris and became a French citizen. When discussing her move, Baker said, “I wanted to get far away from those who believed in cruelty, so then I went to France, a land of true freedom, democracy, equality and fraternity.”
Josephine went on to pursue her career in show business. She also worked for the Red Cross in WWII and as a Civil Rights supporter. Josephine Baker shattered the glass ceiling and continues to be an inspiration for women of every color.
5. Frida Kahlo
"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best."
Frida Kahlo is one of the greatest painters and feminists of the modern era. Kahlo’s life was very much colored with pain ranging from her contraction of polio at age six, growing up during the Mexican Revolution, a traumatic bus accident, her tumultuous marriage to artist Diego Rivera and several miscarriages. Kahlo’s art was influenced and sometimes a direct reflection of the painful experiences in her life. Through her struggles, Kahlo inspires us to create something meaningful out of the pain that we will inevitably face in life. Furthermore, Frida challenged typical beauty standards through her art. She teaches women to embrace their own natural beauty in the face of the societal pressures for perfection and conformity.
6. Malala Yousafzai
“If one man can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?”
When reading the above quote, no one other than the speaker herself comes to mind. Although only 18, Malala has made tremendous waves not only in Pakistan, but the world at large. She has been an advocate and fighter for woman’s rights from a very young age, despite the adversity she has been confronted with.
At age 15, she was shot by the Taliban on her school bus because of her desire and persistence to pursue an education. This did not deter Malala, in fact it only strengthened her resolve and influence. Since then, Malala has continued to fight for women’s rights and children’s education. She went on to be the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In the face of terror and hatred, Malala acts with grace and courage. Her bravery and determination makes her a role model for every woman.
7. Audrey Hepburn
"I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day, and I believe in miracles."
Audrey Hepburn is remembered as one of the greatest actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood, an international fashion icon and a humanitarian. She starred in numerous movies and shows and received many awards for her work. She was also featured on the covers of countless magazines and still is seen on present day fashion blogs.
Yet what sets Audrey apart from every other starlet is her work as a humanitarian and her inspiring personal story. As a young girl, Audrey lived under German occupation in the Netherlands. She suffered from malnutrition and other hardships as a result. However, she actively participated in the Dutch resistance. Inspired by her painful childhood and grateful for her subsequent success, Hepburn became a UNICEF Ambassador. Audrey Hepburn was a true Renaissance woman. As a mother, celebrity, philanthropist, survivor and a lady, she teaches us women can in fact have it all.