Welcome to the second installment of the 2021 Potpourri Series! In honor of Women's History Month we decided to highlight and commemorate some wonderful women who are/were leaders/activists/pioneers/innovators/and legendary in their fields. We hope you are as inspired by these women as we have been!
[A L I C E B A L L]
Alice Ball (M. Sc.) was the first woman and first Black person to receive a Master's degree from the University of Hawaii, and was the school's first female and Black chemistry instructor. While an instructor, she worked with doctor Harry Hollmann to help him determine the active ingredients in a medicinal plant called kava root to better treat leprosy patients. Within a year she figured out the active not only what the active oil was, but how to fractionate it and therefore solubilize it to inject for disease treatment. Sadly, she died suddenly at 24 after falling ill while conducting this research and so she was never able to publish her findings. A few years after her death, a fellow chemistry professor Arthur Dean stole her work and tried to publish it as his own; this was not remedied for many years, but in recent decades her contribution to treating leprosy and the research she conducted has been recognized and re-attributed to her name.
[J O S E P H I N E S I L O N E Y A T E S ]
1852 or 1859-1912
Josephine was a chemist by training, and after completing her schooling (all of which she graduated with honors in) and teaching in Rhode Island, she became one of the first Black professors hired at Lincoln University (Missouri), along with then becoming the first Black woman to head a science department after promotion. She was an excellent teacher and professor, and was also very active in the African American women's club movement. Josephine frequently wrote for several women's magazines, most notably Woman's Era, the first monthly magazine published by Black women in the U.S. and advocated fiercely for establishing women's clubs for African Americans across the country.
[C L A R A B A R T O N]
Clara Barton was an American nurse who founded the American Red Cross. She was a hospital nurse in the American Civil War, a teacher, and a patent clerk. Since nursing education was not then very formalized and she did not attend nursing school, she provided self-taught nursing care. Barton is noteworthy for doing humanitarian work and civil rights advocacy at a time before women had the right to vote. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1973.
At the age of 10, she taught herself how to administer treatments and medicines to her brother David after he was injured in a fall. After doctors gave up on him, she continued to nurse him back to health and he was able to make a full recovery.
During the Civil War, she gained notoriety for procuring much needed medical supplies to treat the wounded soldiers and earned the nicknames "Florence Nightingale of America" and "Angel of the Battlefield". After the Civil War, she tasked herself with identifying soldiers that were buried in unmarked graves and allowing families to give them a proper burial. In 1881, she succeeded in founding the American Red Cross and served as its president until 1897.
[H E L E N K E L L E R]
Helen Keller was an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer. Born in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, she lost her sight and hearing after a bout of illness at the age of nineteen months. She then communicated primarily using home signs until the age of seven when she met her first teacher and life-long companion Anne Sullivan, who taught her language, including reading and writing; Sullivan's first lessons involved spelling words on Keller's hand to show her the names of objects around her. She also learned how to speak and to understand other people's speech using the Tadoma method. After an education at both specialist and mainstream schools, she attended Radcliffe College of Harvard University and became the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She worked for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) from 1924 until 1968, during which time she toured the United States and traveled to 39 countries around the globe advocating for those with vision loss.
[C L A U D E T T E C O L V I N]
Claudette Colvin is a pioneer of the 1950s civil rights movement and retired nurse aide. On March 2, 1955, she was arrested at the age of 15 in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman on a crowded, segregated bus. This occurred nine months before the more widely known incident in which Rosa Parks, secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), helped spark the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.
Colvin was one of five plaintiffs in the first federal court case filed by civil rights attorney Fred Gray on February 1, 1956, as Browder v. Gayle, to challenge bus segregation in the city. In a United States district court, she testified before the three-judge panel that heard the case. On June 13, 1956, the judges determined that the state and local laws requiring bus segregation in Alabama were unconstitutional. The case went to the United States Supreme Court on appeal by the state, and it upheld the district court's ruling on November 13, 1956. One month later, the Supreme Court affirmed the order to Montgomery and the state of Alabama to end bus segregation. The Montgomery bus boycott was then called off.
For many years, Montgomery's black leaders did not publicize Colvin's pioneering effort. She was an unmarried teenager at the time who was pregnant. Colvin has said, "Young people think Rosa Parks just sat down on a bus and ended segregation, but that wasn't the case at all." Although she was not pregnant at the time, Colvin's case was still dropped by the civil rights campaigners, but it became widely accepted that she was not accredited by the civil rights campaigners at the time due to that notion, with even Rosa Parks saying "If the white press got ahold of that information, they would have [had] a field day. They'd call her a bad girl, and her case wouldn't have a chance."
[A F E N I S H A K U R]
1947 - 2016
Afeni Shakur was a revolutionary thinker and activist, shaping the political discourse of Black Liberation movements in the 70s. She joined the Black Panthers in 1964. Afeni Shakur defended herself in the so-called Panther 21 trial, earning an acquittal on all charges. As a pregnant, single mom, she made her arguments and interviewed several witnesses while facing a 300-year sentence. Many said she performed like a seasoned attorney. She didn’t return to the BP, but remained proud of that period in her life, saying that the Black Panthers taught her "to always believe in yourself, and as a woman who was in the Black Panther Party, to believe that my opinion is worth more or as much as anybody else." Shakur continued to serve her community all her life, empowering people to lead themselves, making sure they knew how to get out of their circumstances and march toward liberation.
[R U T H B A D E R G I N S B U R G]
Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, NY March 15, 1933. She was of Jewish descent. Her childhood nickname was ‘Kiki’ because of her kicking activity while in the womb. She had an older sister, Marylin who tragically died while Ginsburg was a toddler. She was called Ruth at her mother’s suggestion because there were many ‘Joans’ in her class.
Her mother, Celia made sure that Ruth was able to attend university because she denied the chance because her parents were only able to afford to send their son. Her mother’s hope was that Ruth would be able to get a job after school as a History Teacher.
Ginsburg fought for gender equality in the workplace. She also fought for abortion rights, as well as against enforced sterilizations on mentally handicapped women. She was also a proponent of voter’s rights. She supported Native American rights to their tribal lands. She supported voting rights for all.
Ginsburg met her husband, Martin while attending Cornell University. After graduation, they married. They moved to Oklahoma where Martin was stationed at Fort Sill for Reserve Training. While there, Ruth worked at the Social Security Administration and was demoted in her position when she became pregnant with their first child.
She went on to attend Harvard, and became a lawyer. She was appointed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton during his presidency in 1993 - where she served until her death on September 18, 2020.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an amazing woman. More information on her life and accomplishments can be found on Wikipedia. (M for ads).
We hope you enjoyed reading about these amazing women as much as we did researching their incredible lives! If you have any wonderful women that have inspired you, please let us know in the comments!
Contributors: Madi, Tasha, Juls, Eli