You are currently viewing Women History Month: My Heroines

March is women history month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day. This post shares my heroines, famous or not so famous, and the odds these women faced when following their dreams.

Contents
  1. March is Women History Month
  2. Women that impressed me as a kid
  3. Women I admired in my teens and tweens
  4. My hero women scientists
  5. Gender Specific Education Was/Is Our Largest Enemey
  6. Heroines of the 1990s
  7. Modern Heroines
  8. Concluding Remarks
  9. References

Updated: 2021

March is Women History Month

In honor of women and Women History Month, the overall theme of my posts in March will be devoted to women in history. Typically, history is written by those in power. Sort like the winner takes it all. Historically, in the Western World those holding the power had been mostly aristocrats and churchmen. Consequently, documented history is strongly biased towards a focus on men and/or written from a man’s perspective.

Women Who Impressed Me When I was a Kid

Our neighbor was a school teacher. In contrast to the majority of German women, she wasn’t blond, blue eyed and didn’t have a round face, small mouth and big boobs. Blond, blue eyes, round face, small mouth and big boobs were still the elements of beauty in post Nazi West Germany. This woman had brown eyes and brown hair, small breasts and an oval face. She was dressed very stylishly and drove a Manta sports car. She walked on high plateau shoes or heels. She was sort of an icon or role model for the six or seven-year-old me. Little Nicole wanted to look as great as this woman when becoming an adult.

Except dancing and soccer, I never was much interested in sports, especially not track and field’s sport. However, during the 1972 Olympic Games, the high jumper Ulrike Meyfarth impressed me. She was just six years older than I was and became the youngest women Olympic champion ever in her discipline. Interestingly, latter she also became the oldest ever when winning the Olympics again in 1984.

Another celebrity related to the 1972 was Sylvia Sommerlath, who worked there as a translator. She met Carl Gustav of Sweden at the games, dated him for years and finally became Queen of Sweden. As a kid, I admired her long brown hair and beautiful face, not that she was dating a King. I wanted long hair, but my mom would always cut it because brown hair shows on tiles, while the light long blond hair of my sister would show! Just a fun fact about Sylvia: Did you know that she is the longest serving Swedish Queen? The title was formerly hold by Sophia of Nassau.

"Queen Silvia" by hapre is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Queen Sylvia of Sweden, formerly Sylvia Renate Sommerlath. “Queen Silvia” by hapre is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Women I Admired in My Teens and Tweens

Miss Twiggie aka Lesley Hornby. I loved her thin body, flat boobs, androgynous appearance and her big eyes. Since my mom kept “chopping” my hair, I had the same boyish short haircut. She sorts of looked like an older twin of me except for her blond hair and long, long lashes. I also loved the clothes she was wearing.

Fun fact: Did you know that she achieved this signature lashes by applying three false eyelashes?

Miss Twiggy
Miss Twiggy “60’s Psychedelic Fashion” by Dolldiva67 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Michèle Mouton was my heroine because she showed that women can also be successful driving ralleys.

Beate Uhse is mostly known in Germany for her entrepreneurship and being the first to start sex shops. However, what makes her a heroine in my eyes is that she followed her dream to become a pilot. At age 18, she had her pilot’s license. In 1938, she passed her stunt pilot exam. She placed 2nd and 3rd in flight competitions. At age 19, she became a test pilot for the Bücker aircraft company. During WWII, she ferried aircrafts like the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, Messerschmitt Bf 109 and 110, Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and Messerschmitt Me 262. At the end of the war, she fled the bombarded Berlin together with her injured son and nanny in a Siebel Fh 104 plane, she had never flown before. Upon landing in Leck, Northfriesland, British units captured her.

I also admired the women who flew aircrafts from the Lower 48s to Fairbanks during WWII. Women weren’t allowed to be in combat zones. Thus, they weren’t allowed to fly the rest of the aircrafts’ route to Russia. However, the harsh weather conditions over Alaska were the same danger than those their male colleaues faced. The Far East of Siberia wasn’t a war action place at that time. These flights were made within the framework of the land-lease contract.

Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space. She orbited Earth 48 times in 3 days on board of her capsule Vostok 6. Back then, this time was longer than the time of all male astraunauts together.

My Hero Women Scientists

Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891) was declined admission at University Berlin because of her gender. She studied in private at Göttingen and later Berlin. Her work on differential equation got high recogniztion. She became the first woman in Europe to earn a doctorate in mathematics and a full professorship. She taught at University Stockholm.

photo of mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya
Sofia_Kovalevskaya. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) used X-ray technology to study the molecular structure of coal, viruses and DNA. She showed that the DNA has a helical shape. 1962 Noble Prize awardees Watson and Crick had confirmed her findings. She didn’t receive the prize because she already had deceased.

When I was in high school, we were taught that Marie Skłodowska aka Marie Curie and her sister had made a deal to support each other to study in France. At that time, Polish and many other European universities didn’t allow women to enroll. Her sis went first, while Marie worked in Warsaw, Poland. Upon graduation of her sis, she moved to Paris to study physics. Note I never found a source that confirmed this part of the story. However, there are many sources of the following. In Paris, she met her future husband Pierre Curie, who also worked in the research of radioactivity. They won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. Pierre died being overrun by a horse drawn carriage in 1906. Marie continued their studies and won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of radium and polonium. This award made her the first person ever who won two Nobel Prizes! This achievement made her my heroine.

It wasn’t until much later in my life that I learned that in 1911, she had an affair with the married physicist, Paul Langevin. His wife Jeanne provided incriminating letters from Marie to Paul. Knowing well the French culture Jeanne Langevin must have been known that Marie would get the critic. At those times, there was the attitude that it’s ok for a man to have an affair. Both stories broke while she was attending the Solvay physics conference in Brussels.

Newsletter published like sale numbers. Thus, the “sex affair” was more interesting than her scientific achievements. She also was falsely called a Jewess. Bertram Boltwood, who was also a radiochemist, took the opportunity to state that “she is exactly what I always thought she was, a detestable idiot.” This newspaper witch hunt pushed her into a personal crisis. Albert Einstein supported her in these hard times with an uplifting letter telling her “don’t let the bastards get you down”.

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie #quote #femalescientist Click To Tweet
Pierre et Marie Curie font du vélo by Carfree France is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Marie Curie and her husband Pierre with bikes. “Pierre et Marie Curie font du vélo” by Carfree France is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy. - Marie Curie #quote #womanscientist Click To Tweet

Lise Meitner worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin on research of nuclear technology. Here she led the research and significant experiments and made the calculation of the energy release that finally meant the discovery of nuclear fission. Her problems started in March 1938, when Nazi Germany and Austria became unified. While being Austrian and an Alien had protected her before, now she was “German” overnight. Her colleague Otto Hahn gave her a family heirloom diamond ring as financial support. Supported by him, and Dutch physicists Dirk Koster and Adriaan Fokker, she was able to escape via the Netherlands on July 13, 1938. Later, on a winter walk with her nephew Otto Frisch, they found the explanation for the observations and called the process nuclear fission. In February 1939, the paper was published. Instead of her and her nephew, Otto Hahn received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of nuclear fission.

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. -… Click To Tweet
Lise Meitner.
Lise Meitner. “01210233” by IAEA Imagebank is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Why are these women scientists my heroines? They stood their man as women in a men’s world and started a path for women in sciences. Incredible women who plowed the road in space sciences were Katherine Johnson, Gladys Mae West and Mae Jemison. More about these Black Women.

Gender Specific Education Was/Is Our Largest Enemy

Recall, when in 1988 Gertrude Elion won the Noble Prize, she said

Nothing worthwhile comes easily … In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry.

Despite these women showed that being interested in science isn’t a male thing, they hit glass ceilings. They also had a lot of obstacles in their way that their male colleagues hadn’t to navigate. The cultural upbringing and gender specific education were just two of them. In the 1960s and 1970s, science was still considered a thing for boys, not girls. My Mom couldn’t understand that I wanted to watch the Moon landing. I was nearly glued to the TV during Apollo 13. I was fascinated about the small window angle for re-entry and the navigational logistic involved in the mission (more on how NASA inspired me).

In middle school, the girls were having crafting classes (crochet, embroidery, sewing), while the boys were supposed to have carpender classes. However, the school lacked a teacher for the later as well as for the cooking classes. Otherwise we girls would have had 4 hours of classes more to take than the boys. I never got why not all of us were taught carpending, cooking and crafting. There are many reasons why you should learn to sew, cook or doing minor repairs.

In high school, I was the only woman in my chemistry class. I was never allowed to do any of the experiments. My teacher fore bid it saying

You could burn your hair.

Do I have to say that my classmates had hair too. None of them was blade.

When I was in college the research opportunities for women were also limited. Read here what it meant studying meteorology as a woman in the 1980s. Also women weren’t allowed to go to the research sation in Anartica until the late 1980s. Then they had formed a team of just women to go there.

One is not born, but rather becomes a woman. - Simone de Beauvoir #quote #women Click To Tweet

Heroines of the 1990s

Katherine Ann Moss aka Kate Moss was my favorite model. She pulled the heroin chic fashion trend off like no other. Her perfectly imperfect look seemed so right. I still love how she throws outfits together.

Kate Moss looking cool in jeans and men’s rib shirt. “kate moss loves topshop” by fkf is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

 

My favorite actress was Julia Roberts. My favorite female singer was Annie Lennox.

Modern Heroines

Lyn Slate because of her courage to wear what she wants despite being in Higher Education and research.

Tererai Trent because she showed that even when all odds are against you, you can reach your dreams.

……

Concluding Remarks

Of course, this list is incomplete and there are many other women who have inspired me. However, these women have things in common.

They followed their dreams, believed that they can do it despite of many odds. They looked and thought different from what was accepted and/or expected.

Even though it wasn’t their goal they helped to change societal perceptions on women and their abilities; their dreams opened opportunities for women of later generations. Thus, following your dreams isn’t egocentric. As a side effect, it helps others too. What are your dreams?

Educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation. Fanti Proverb Africa #education #womenhistorymonth Click To Tweet

Who were the women except for family members, who inspired you?

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References

Editors, C.R. (2018) Marie Curie: The Life and Legacy of the Legendary Scientist Who Became the First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize. Amazon.

Sime, R.L. (1997) Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics, University of California Press

Smithsonian, 2019. Women: Our Story. DK Publishing, New York.

Trent, T. (2017) The awakened woman. Enliven.

© 2013-2021 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mr.Rios

    That’s a list of incredibly independent women who were ahead of their time! Their influence on you is not lost on us, and we are all grateful for the results.
    As for female influences, well, there’s my great aunt, who brought forth the notion that love and strength can be the same thing, but at different levels.
    Lee Bontecou- had to do an art study, but found love, pure love for her ability to craft pure imagination with mixed media (canvas and metal work) to make dimensional art, as well as her grit to be independent of the times in order to evolve as an artist.
    Barbara McClintock- working with DNA and breaking old mindsets of ‘fixed genetic code’ by proving genes are not fixed from parent to offspring, but can change individual chromosomes, which requires activators for this to happen. That, and all the basics of genetics Watson and Crick got the Nobel Prize for without giving her (or Rosalind Franklin’s huge work in genetics). Yet, she persisted to win her own prize in the 80’s.
    Diane Keaton-Oh, lordy, where do we begin? Showing a woman can be independent, personally, professionally, and display incredible intelligence all the while. Keaton has been the hallmark for intellectual fashion sense, with a bit of sensuality thrown in, too. She’s to blame for my admiration and personal affinity for intelligent older women with incredible fashion sense.
    Went on too long, but hey, Nicole, you got me going!
    Thanks for the post. It is refreshing to see someone’s influences and foundations for being.

  2. Hilda Smith

    I am inspired by women who dare to break the mould. In Ireland we had Maud Gonne and Countess Markievitz or The Pankhursts who fought for the vote for women.

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