For many of us, March 8 marks a celebration of the brilliant contributions made by women today and throughout history. While it’s easy enough to honor prominent individuals like Kamala Harris and Oprah on International Women’s Day, this space is dedicated to honoring 10 lesser known women who have improved our lives in areas such as art, activism, medicine, and scholarship.
Staceyann Chin is a Jamaican-born spoken-word poet, writer, artist, LGBTQ political activist, and the recipient of countless awards, including Tony nominations. Chin uses her own experiences to confront issues like misogyny, racism, and colonialism. “Her candor lends itself beautifully to unmasking the taboos surrounding women’s bodies and sexuality, but her sensual focus also makes room to celebrate the joy also found there. Her legendary work has captivated audiences for over twenty years through her ability to blend activism and passion with performance.” – Lauren Leblanc, Observer.com
“I dare you to make people without a vagina
Even Jesus had to pass through a punani,
angels and messengers aside
Mary had to lend passage to God
or them Christians might still be Jews
waiting for a Christ that was stuck up the ass of some man
who thought he could do what little girls do every day
against our will.”
Born in Germany in 1894, Katharina Schroth suffered from scoliosis until the age of 16. After studying the way a balloon collapses and expands, she developed a breathing technique that cured her condition. She then opened a clinic with her daughter, Christa, in the 1930s, where they helped thousands of people learn breathing and posturing techniques that healed their spines and changed their lives forever. Initially, the German medical community tried to discredit her, but by the end of her life, she was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit for her contributions. The Schroth method is still widely used today to treat scoliosis and her work on the power of breath inspires millions.
Additional reading: https://bookshop.org/books/breath-the-new-science-of-a-lost-art/9780735213616
You’ve likely never heard of Artemisia, the Italian Baroque painter born in 1593, yet she is considered one of the most accomplished artists of the 17th century. She began painting at 15 under the tutelage of her father, who was also an artist, surrounded by a world of men at a time when women rarely found individual success. Her work has long been overshadowed by her participation in the trial of the man that raped her, yet it was her courage in that experience that shaped the extraordinary masterpieces that conveyed her genius.
Additional reading: https://www.christies.com/features/Andrew-Graham-Dixon-on-Artemesia-Gentileschi-10342-7.aspx
Catherine Coleman Flowers
Catherine Coleman Flower is an environmental justice activist from Lowndes County, Alabama who works tirelessly for the underserved people of her community. Her work is focused on finding solutions to the raw sewage and sanitation crisis affecting the predominantly African American people of Alabama and other rural areas throughout the nation. As the founder of Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ) Flowers has dedicated her life to moving legislation, improving access to clean water and air for marginalized peoples, and exposing the climate injustice affecting our neighbors.
Her book: Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret
Further Reading: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/11/30/the-heavy-toll-of-the-black-belts-wastewater-crisis
As a lawyer, author, entrepreneur, trans rights activist, and top earning CEO in biopharmaceuticals, there is little that Martine Rothblatt can’t do. After leaving college early in the 1970s, Martine went on to invent satellite radio, Sirius XM, and several other communications companies. At age 40, she decided to conquer medicine and founded a company to cure her daughter’s rare disease. She developed a life-saving oral medication for thousands of other patients, all while undergoing sex reassignment surgery. Not only did Martine conceive and mathematically demonstrate the first electric helicopter, she also unveiled the world’s first net zero office building, conquering sustainability alongside aviation, broadcast, biotech, and pharmaceuticals.
Her Book: Virtually Human: The Promise- and Peril- of Digital Immortality
Margaret Charles Smith
Margaret Charles Smith was an African American Alabama midwife who delivered more than 3,500 babies throughout her 30 year career, catching her first baby at the tender age of 5. Strikingly, nearly all of those babies and all of the mothers that she has cared for survived during a time when the mortality rate for Black women was extremely high. Born in 1906, Smith was crucial to the lives of the Southern Black women she served because most hospitals at the time refused to admit Black patients. Margaret Charles Smith received several awards near the end of her lifetime for her courageous and life-saving work.
Her memoir: Listen to Me Good: The Story of An Alabama Midwife
Lakhimi Baruah provides women within her community of Assam, India with crucial banking opportunities they would otherwise be without. After working in a cooperative bank and witnessing the slew of issues women from poor backgrounds faced in regards to earning and depositing their own money, she founded Konoklata Mahila Urban Cooperative Bank in 1998. Because of Lakhimi, thousands of women have been provided with credit, loans and skills for saving their own money to pave the way to independence and financial freedom. Today, her banks have four branches, employ 21 regular women employees, and represent over 45,000 account holders, nearly all of which are female.
Additional Reading: https://yourstory.com/2018/03/lakhimi-baruah-konoklota-mahila-urban-cooperative-bank
The Ama Pearl Divers of Japan
For over 1,200 years, a small yet obscure community of Japanese women have been diving to the depths of the sea to harvest pearls and other ocean life. Wearing only a loincloth, this group of gals have been freediving at depths of up to 30 feet and can hold their breath for up to 2 minutes at a time. Many of the ama are elderly, some as old as 90, and teach future ama as young as 12. Because many are so old, it is believed that their underwater deep breathing techniques extend one’s lifespan. The Ama diving work not only provides industry but also creates a strong community of women who are able to work and live on their own terms.
Additional Reading: https://www.forbes.com/sites/priyashukla/2019/03/08/meet-the-female-pearl-divers-of-japan-the-ama/?sh=156456dd3338
If you participated in any of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer of 2020, you likely shouted #SayHerName. Not only is Kimberlé Crenshaw responsible for the saying that brought critical awareness to the murders of black women at the hands of state violence that often went ignored, but she also coined the theory of intersectionality that verbalizes the interlocking nature of oppressions. Crenshaw is a civil rights activist, lawyer, philosopher and full-time professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School. Her work on black feminist theory is world renowned and informs many of the conversations had about race and oppression today.
Clara Hale established Hale House in the 1940s, the first and only known program for children born addicted to drugs. Within months of discovering that she could become a foster parent, Clara had 22 heroin-addicted children in her home in Harlem. In 1975, Hale House became the Center for Promotion of Human Potential, the only black volunteer childcare agency in its time. Over 500 children healed and grew under the nurturing love of ‘Mommy Hale’ and her various programs for mothers and troubled youths. In 1985 President Reagan mentioned her by name in his State of the Union Address. Her legacy as a positive force endures today.
Additional Reading: https://www.nytimes.com/1992/12/19/us/clara-hale-founder-of-home-for-addicts-babies-dies-at-87.html