Extraordinary women exist throughout history. Sometimes, it is only looking back that we see just what extraordinary women they were. The achievements of many women were not recognised during their lifetime, yet they are now acknowledged for their contributions to science, the arts, medicine and many other traditionally male fields. So here are just a few of the extraordinary women who changed the world and paved the way for many of the rights that we take for granted …
It is often said that some of the greatest rulers of England and Great Britain have been its queens. Elizabeth was the first to give her name to an age, was the first successful woman to rule in her own right (her sister Mary I´s short reign was not seen as a triumph), and brought about religious stability after several decades of turmoil. She refused to marry, but instead ruled only with her advisors. But there was never any doubt who was in charge!
Mary Woolstonecraft was the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. But her achievements during her short life were even more considerable. Mary wrote a significant book in 1792, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, in which she argued that women were equal to men. At the time, her views were seen as shocking, but eventually Mary became regarded as a great feminist writer.
The contributions of many women go unnoticed, and the name Dorothy Hodgkin is almost certainly unknown to you. But Dorothy deserves her place among extraordinary women for her achievements in chemistry. She was involved in work on penicillin and insulin, two drugs that have saved millions of lives. Winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry, she also dedicated much time to the peace movement.
Can you imagine being denied the right to vote, just because you are female? Without women like Emmeline Pankhurst, who knows how long this situation would have continued. She and her fellow suffragettes were prepared to risk their health and freedom in order to promote such an important cause, going to prison and suffering the appalling treatment of force-feeding when they went on hunger strike. We have extraordinary women such as this to thank for fighting for rights that we take for granted.
A century ago, many women were ignorant about sexual issues, even when they got married. So when Marie Stopes published “Married Love” in 1918, it was a truly groundbreaking work. Stopes carried out extremely valuable work concerning family planning, which allowed women more control over their fertility and reproductive life.
Some of the most extraordinary women are those who are modest about what they have done. But when one day in 1955 a black woman refused to give up her place on a bus to a white man, she sparked off a boycott of the bus system that lasted for over a year. It also led to a end of segregation on buses, and brought Dr Martin Luther King Jr into the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement would have succeeded anyway, but when that brave lady decided that she had had enough of being treated badly, she made a massive contribution to the cause of equal rights.
Finally, an extraordinary woman of contemporary times. Aung Sang Suu Kyi´s fight for democracy in Burma cost her fifteen years under house arrest, away from her family, whom she saw rarely. Yet she never gave up, and was finally freed in 2010. No doubt she would argue that a free country was worth more than her own personal happiness.
There are so many extraordinary women that this could have been a very long list! Women have often been overlooked in history, and their achievements are still frequently dismissed or not given the recognition they deserve. So let´s acknowledge just how many extraordinary women there are! Who do you most admire, whether from the past or present?
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