It's officially Women's History Month, which means it's time to celebrate the many accomplishments that are so often looked over throughout the rest of the year. With that in mind, here are just 10 of the many brave, intelligent Women who bucked the sexist traditions that sought to limit them and, instead, did what they wanted to do — paving the way for future generations of women to do the same.
1. Nellie Bly
Nellie Bly entered the journalism scene in an unabashedly feminist way, by submitting a letter to The Pittsburgh Dispatch that rebutted one writer's diatribe about how women belonged in the home. An editor saw Bly's potential and hired her in 1885. Just two years later, Bly famously posed as a mental patient on Blackwell's Island for a New York World expose; a few years after, she that took a record-setting, 72-day trip around the world, writing about it for the same paper.
Few people are aware that one of the first investigative journalists to embed themselves in the field and put themselves thoroughly at risk for the sake of a story was a woman. Bly's insistence doing such risky investigative work is especially astonishing considering that women were almost exclusively society reporters at the time. Thankfully, Bly eschewed paternalistic notions of women's passivity and decided to take on the world — and write about it.
2. Hedy Lamarr
Lamarr bucked societal notions that women couldn't be both smart and sexy at a time when they were encouraged to be neither. Though known best for her acting career, Lamarr was hardly content to let her pretty face be her only mark on the world. The actress was also an inventor who co-created technology essential to controlling torpedoes during World War II, work which later enabled Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology. She was also the first actress to simulate an on-screen orgasm, acting in the 1933 film Ecstasy.
Despite her accomplishments, Lamarr faced pushback due to her gender. When she attempted to join the National Inventors Council so she could contribute to war efforts, Lamarr was reportedly told that she should instead use her celebrity status to sell war bonds. Luckily, she continued to invent anyway, and her contributions to the war and society at large were formally recognized in 2014 when she was inducted into the Inventor's Hall of Fame. "I'm the sworn enemy of convention," the inventor once said. Reviewing her accomplishments, one has no choice but to agree.
3. Agent 355
Long before 007, there was 355. History books would do well to liven their account of the American Revolution by mentioning this member of the Culper Spy Ring, America's first elite spy network. One of George Washington's most valuable spies, the woman known only as "Agent 355" was likely the only one who could rock an evening gown while gathering information critical to the colonies' achieving independence.
The agent, who was reportedly "described as a person of disarming wit and beguiling charm" and was a regular on the Manhattan social scene, according to the Huffington Post, apparently vanished before the end of the Revolution. Though there were hardly an abundance of female spies at the time — or for years after — Agent 355 clearly had a calling and, thankfully for America, served her country anyway.
4. Mary Shelley
There are plenty of reasons why Mary Shelley's Frankenstein endures as a great work of literature. Shelley wrote the novel at just 20 years old, and the book has been wildly popular for centuries — it is now considered the pioneering work of the science fiction genre, making Shelley the genre's mother. No author had previously attempted to approach a scientific premise from a literary perspective, but the lack of precedent hardly stopped Shelley from initiating a cultural phenomenon.
5. Murasaki Shikibu
Little is known about the Japanese author credited with writing the world's first modern novel, The Tale of Genji, other than that she certainly overcame plenty of obstacles to do so. Even her name is an invention, drawn from one of the novel's characters and the author's father's job, according to Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Not only was Shikibu educated — a rarity for women at any point for most of history, but especially around the year 1010 — but she also became literate in both Japanese and Chinese.
Scholars have gathered that Shikibu was a widow and member of an elite noble family, two factors that were inarguably essential to her ability to write the book, according to the encyclopedia. But the fact that this Japanese woman sat down and essentially created the entire concept of fiction writing 1,000 years ago — long before the white men who dominate the modern literary canon were even born — is pretty remarkable.
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