Notable Women from History

For International Women’s Day let’s take a moment to remember some of the badass women of history from all over the world.

Hypatia of Alexandria (370 CE – 415 CE) – Hypatia was a remarkable woman for any time period; she eschewed the accepted roles for women at the time and became a celebrated mathematician, philosopher and lecture at the University of Alexandria. She frequented the great Library of Alexandria often in her pursuit of knowledge. She was seen by Christians at the time as a someone who stood in the way of converting Alexandria to Christianity. A mob led by Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, attacked her on her way home from lecturing in March of 415CE, beat her to death, and burned her body in the streets. For this, Cyril was canonized.

Jeanne de Clisson (1300-1359) – The playwrights may say “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” but I think Clisson would take umbrage at that. Clisson might not have ever been remembered if only for one thing. During the start of the 100 year’s war, the French Monarch Philip VI became suspicious of Clisson’s husband and ultimately executed him. That would prove to be a mistake. She raised a force of men from her husbands’ retainers and set about sacking French strongholds, including massacring the soldiers that had taken up residency in her home. When it became too dangerous to act on land, she took to the sea with a fleet of Pirate Ships becoming a terror for the French on the Normandy coast. The Lioness of Brittany would become instrumental in the English taking of Brittany and would ultimately outlive those who’d wronged her and killed her husband.

Lady Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar (1312-1369) – English poet Sir Walter Scott had this to say of Agnes, Countess of Dunbar, “From the record of Scottish heroes, none can presume to erase her.” Worthy praise, because in 1338 English forces intent on conquering Scotland would find their match at the Castle Dunbar when Agnes prevented its capture for more than five months. It didn’t matter what the English did: lob rocks from afar, and Agnes would send her maids out to dust the ramparts; get in too close, and the few men she did have would drop boulders on them; threaten her with the life of her brother, and she would point out that he doesn’t have kids and his death would just increase her holdings. At the height of the siege, the English commander thought she’d break for running out of food, only to be sent a fresh loaf of bread and some wine in Agnes’ name. By the time the siege was broken, it’s said the departing soldiers were even singing about her.

Mary Ann Brown Patten (1837-1861) – Sometimes breaking a barrier is a choice; sometimes it’s thrust upon you. That’s the case for the first woman to captain a ship from America, Mary Patten. Before the Panama Canal, sailors would embark on a dangerous journey travelling from the American East Coast to the West Coast by travelling below the Southern tip of South America. It was at the dangerous crossing that fate called upon Patten. Her husband, the captain of Neptune’s Car, the merchant vessel she was traveling on, fell ill. The  first mate had been relieved of duty earlier; it was now up to her, a 19 year old woman who was four months pregnant, to take up captaincy of the ship. She managed it and more. She also had to put down a mutiny by the first mate and a few other sailors that would rather rise up than be captained by a woman. When they made it safely to San Francisco, Patten was awarded 1000 dollars by the holding company for getting their shipment to them safely.

Ooyama Sutematsu (1860-1919) – When her family sent her to America as part of an Imperial mission to learn about the west, Ooyama had no choice. But everything that came after, she decided for herself. Stuck in a foreign land with only a couple of strangers from her homeland, Ooyama taught herself English, excelled at school in America, and became the first woman from Japan to get a college degree, graduating magna cum laude. Upon returning to Japan, she wanted nothing more than to make certain that other Japanese women had the same opportunity to get an education. With the backing of the Empress, and the support of her new husband, she started a school for noblewomen. Ooyama would become one of the central figures in the founding of Tsuda College, the first college in Japan open to women from all classes. The College is named after the principal founder, Ume Tsuda, a friend of Ooyama’s that had also been part of the Imperial Mission to America. Tsuda College remains open today as one of Japan’s most prestigious women’s colleges.

Luisa Capetillo (1879-1922) – Capetillo was the child of two immigrants who raised in her in Puerto Rico with a highly-liberal education. Capetillo would become a prominent labour organizer and union leader who passionately worked to promote worker’s rights. She published a book, My Opinion about the Rights, Liberties, and Responsibilities of Women; critiquing  the condition of women in Puerto Rico and promoting  the need for equal education for all. In 1915, in one of her many brushes with the law in Puerto Rico, she was arrested for being the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear pants. Capetillo organized one of the largest strikes in Puerto Rico history, leading 40,000 industrial workers to strike in the 1916 Sugar Strike. The judge at the time also thought this was ridiculous and dropped all charges against her after talking with her.

Queen Soraya Tarzi (1899-1968) – Together with her husband King Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan, Tarzi was a prominent activist for women’s rights and education. She was the first Muslim consort to appear not only in public, but also play a prominent role in the politics of the country, eventually even becoming the Minister of Education. Tarzi and her husband were very progressive, but it’s said they pushed too hard too fast.Fearing rebellion from more conservative elements in Afghanistan, they abdicated their throne and lived the rest of their lives in exile. Despite their exile, both were afforded funerals at the Bagh-e-Shaheed mausoleum in Jalalabad.

Nancy Augusta Wake (1912-2011) – Wake was born in New Zealand and wasa freelance journalist that travelled throughout Europe before settling in France as a high-society hostess. But when World War II broke out she found a new calling, spy. She’s been credited with saving the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers and establishing essential communication lines between the French resistance and Allied command. She was decorated by the United States, England and France, who awarded her with the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest military honor. The Nazis  placed a large bounty on her, and gave her the name The White Mouse for her ability to evade them.

(1920-1958) – Franklin was a brilliant researcher and scientist that worked at King’s College in the 1950’s. She led a team of researchers that produced one the most important photos in the 20th Century, an X-Ray crystallography photograph, called Photo 51, that revealed the helical structure of DNA. When this astounding achievement would be published, credit for the photo and the discovery were taken by James Watson and Francis Crick, who had obtained the photo without Franklin’s permission from another King’s College researcher, Maurice Wilkins. Franklin died shortly thereafter, and 4 years later, Watson, Crick and Wilkins won the Nobel Prize. She’s remembered in James Watson’s book about the discovery sparingly and condescendingly, best illustrated by his own words, “Rosy had to go or be put in her place. … The thought could not be avoided that the best home for a feminist was in another person’s lab.”

There are amazing women all throughout history and we hope that we’ve highlighted a few that you might not have heard of.

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