March is Women’s History Month and we asked you (our faithful readers!) to share with us the women that inspire and influence you. From the personal to the political, answers came rolling in. We wanted to share a few that resonated with us, but know how we appreciate learning about every brave, fierce woman who topped your list. Read on for the backstories of these inspiring women—many of whom we learned about for the first time, as well!
Maya Lin is an architect and visionary, whose prominent designs are both instantly recognizable and deeply sacred: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL; the Women’s Table at Yale University in New Haven, CT. Lin draws inspiration from the natural world but believes nothing she designs will match the beauty of nature. In her own words, Lin’s work “originates from a simple desire to make people aware of their surroundings, not just the physical world but also the psychological world we live in.”
Terry Tempest Williams is a writer, conservationist, and naturalist who shows us how environmental issues are social issues that ultimately become matters of justice. Listen to her read her own words on the American West here. Our reader shared, “Her books about environmental conservation, sisterhood, self-discovery, activism in the face of institutions have changed my life. She is wise, observant, graceful, thoughtful and kind in her writings, and has challenged the status quo again and again.”
Dr. Maria Montessori was an Italian educator, physician, and scientist, and in 1906 was asked to to create a childcare center in San Lorenzo, a poor, inner-city district of Rome. She succeeded, and in turn, created a unique educational pedagogy centered on self-growth and motivation, with a goal of nurturing a child’s natural desire for knowledge, understanding, and respect. The Montessori education is still widely used and practiced today. Our reader shared, “She was the first woman doctor in Italy. She developed a unique pedagogy, centered on children’s natural development, and her ultimate objective was to educate for peace (so important right now!). I believe that if we would all educate our children following her premises of compromise, cooperation, and respect towards everything and each other, the world could be a better place.”
Aspasia of Miletus is best known as the consort of the great Athenian statesman Pericles. Her life story has always been given in the shadow of Pericles’ fame, but she was a woman of great eloquence and intelligence in her own right who influenced many of the writers, thinkers, and statesmen of her time (400 BCE). Our reader who nominated her is named after Aspasia! She shared with us: “She was an educated woman in Athens when girls and women didn't receive a formal education, and she was married to Pericles, who brought the concept of democracy to Greece. She wrote a lot of his speeches, hung out with the intellectuals of the city, and educated other women in the city, All scandalous behavior at the time! My mom found out about her while pregnant with me, and loved her story and what she stood for. Being named for her has impacted me—it's an unusual name here in the US, especially for non-Greek communities, so when people ask about my name, I turn it into a mini learning opportunity for them.”
Anne Innis Dagg is a zoologist, feminist, and leader in the study of animal behavior. She was the first person in the world to study giraffes in the wild! Our read who nominated her wrote: “She was the first woman to travel to South Africa in the 1950s to study giraffes in the wild. Much of her research was credited to men. Only recently has she reclaimed her career and is now recognized by the conservation community for her work. She made me feel like it's never too late to reclaim your passion and professional career. So often we look at older adults and dismiss them as being ‘beyond their prime’. Here she is being invited back to South Africa after 50 years to take back what she was denied so many years ago due to her being a woman.”
Ida B. Wells was an educator, journalist, and early civil rights activist. She was one of the founders of the NAACP and owned the Memphis Free Speech newspaper. In 1889, three of her friends (owners of People’s Grocery Store in Memphis, Tennessee) were arrested for a public disturbance and taken out of their jail cells in the middle of the night to be lynched. This event led to Wells’ huge body of investigative journalism about the widespread practice of lynching and how it was used to intimidate and oppress Blacks who created economic and political competition. Ida B. Wells published a pamphlet titled The Red Record that was the first statistical record of the history of American lynchings. In 2020, Wells was posthumously honored with a Pulitzer Prize special citation for “her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching." Our reader shared why she nominated Ida B. Wells by saying: “As a black woman during the late 19th and early 20th centuries she stood for what was right (anti-lynching, equal rights for black people, women’s suffrage) even when such progressive ideas were unpopular. She reminds me that we should always stand for justice.”
Dr. Elizabeth D. Stacy was the first woman to graduate from the University of Michigan Medical School to become only the third certified woman doctor in the United States and the first in Minnesota. During much of the Civil War, she was thesole physician in Freeborn County, riding all over the thinly-settled county helping the settlers with their medical needs. Our reader shared: “I work at the Freeborn County Historical Museum and a dress of hers we have in the collection from the late 1800s has pockets! She is one of the first of many influential women in the county.”