By: Delanee Ensley
Women throughout history have fought for our rights to succeed and tried to make the world a better place. Through humanitarian work, academic work, and music, these six women offered us positive changes in our lives. Being in the spotlight can be difficult, but these women did effortlessly and inspirationally in order to allow their dreams to come true, showing us that with passion, we can do the same things.
Marie Curie (1895-1934)
We’ve always looked up to strong STEM women, and Marie Curie was one of the first! Curie is the recipient of two Nobel Prizes and one of the people to discover the element of radium. From an early age, she was interested in mathematics and science, as her father was a teacher of both. Known for her remarkable memory, it is no surprise that she eventually wound up being taught by some of the most remarkable physicists of her time. Being a hard worker is an understatement when it comes to Marie Curie. According to Brittanica, she would work long hours, sometimes late into the night, and basically lived on only bread, butter, and tea.
Through working in different labs, she would eventually come to meet her partner in life and in science, Pierre Curie. Together, the couple discovered the elements polonium and radium, and in 1903, shared the accomplishment of earning a Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of radioactivity. Pierre Curie’s death in 1906 was tragic, but Marie’s work ethic kept her going. In 1911, Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her accomplishment of isolating pure radium. Curie died in 1934, but she was never forgotten. In 1995, her ashes were enshrined at the Panthéon in Paris, the first woman to gain this accomplishment.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
Eleanor Roosevelt was a great leader and advocated for social change. At an early age, she volunteered to teach impoverished children in New York and fought hard for change in working conditions. According to History, though Eleanor approved of her political career, she was reluctant to move into the role of the First Lady because she did not want to give up her teaching job and autonomy. However, it was not long after she became First Lady that she realized she could make changes alongside her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, instead of being a silent partner. Eleanor Roosevelt was an avid supporter of women's rights, encouraging her husband to appoint women into federal roles. During World War II, she promoted issues important to the troops, wanting to keep their morale up. Roosevelt was also known as an advocate for civil rights. She created an anti-lynching bill, and the KKK hated her so much that in the ‘60s they put a $25,000 bounty on her head.
After her husband's death and the end of her journey as First Lady, she served as a delegate for the United Nations and helped draft the Universal Human Declaration of Human Rights. Roosevelt also served on the board of the NAACP and the Peace Corps. She worked hard in her later years for the Democratic Party and wrote 27 books and over 8,000 columns.
Billie Holiday (1915-1959)
Lady Day, or Billie Holiday, is known as one of the greatest jazz singers from the ‘20s to the ‘50s. One of her most influential songs was named “Strange Fruit” and is about the lynchings happening during that time period, comparing the hanging bodies in the trees to fruit. This poem-turned-song was a statement piece for Holiday. According to an article found on History, she would perform this piece last to a stunned audience, letting the lights fade, and by the time they were turned back on, she was gone, letting the song hang with the audience.
Today, this song is still studied in schools and by musicians as an important musical historical moment. In 1987, years after her death, she won a Grammy Award for her lifetime achievements and had been nominated twice for other awards. Billie Holiday was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Her music and lyrics continue to inspire many.
Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, played her way into all of our hearts, most famously with her song “Respect.” Her music is powerful and mirrors her life as a powerful woman. Though she suffered hardships, she never let them affect the powerful spirit she gave through her music and empowered many women and people to persevere. When Franklin was only 14 years old, she landed her first record deal, recording an album of gospel songs. By the time she was 18, she had switched to blues and jazz music, and interestingly enough, the same man who signed Billie Holiday also signed Aretha. In 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won a total of 18 Grammy Awards throughout her lifetime
Her influence gave us many of the pop stars we see today, including Beyoncé and Alicia Keys. According to Rolling Stone, when Michelle and Barack Obama learned about her death they had this to say, “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.”
Toni Morrison (1931-2019)
Toni Morrison is influential to writers and an inspiration to the Black community. Morrison’s life started in Ohio, under the constant threat of racial discrimination. From a young age, she enjoyed reading and writing and would use those talents her entire life. After graduating from high school, Morrison went on to attend Howard University and then Cornell for her master’s degree. With her degrees in English, she returned to her alma mater, Howard University, where she taught for seven years before deciding to follow her real dream. Morrison went on to be an editor at Random Publishing House, giving her the time to write.
She did not publish her first novel, “The Bluest Eye until she was 39 years old, and by the time she published her second novel, “Sula,” she was a household name. The novel, “Beloved,” is based on a true story of a runaway slave and is probably her most popular book. According to Brittanica, in 1993, Toni Morrison became the first Black woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded her the novel, “Beloved.” This novel became a movie in 1998, which starred Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 for the amazing literature she has bestowed upon us.
Princess Diana (1961-1997)
Diana, Princess of Wales, was the wife of Prince Phillip and the mother of Prince William and Princes Henry. With her celebrity status, she was known as a trendsetter. Some of her looks are even copied to this day. In 1996, Princess Diana and Prince Phillip separated, Diana struggling with depression in the eye of the spotlight. According to Brittanica, she would bring along her two sons with her to places like orphanages and homeless shelters, teaching them about privilege and the role they have in helping people. This humility and care gave her the title “The People’s Princess.” Though Princess Diana loved to help people, the spotlight could be exhausting. In 1997, while trying to get away from the paparazzi Princess Diana, her companion Dodi Fayed, and the driver were all killed. We all mourned the loss of a great and caring woman, but even in death, she has a hand in helping people. The Diana Award, created in Princess Diana’s honor, is dedicated to praising young people from the ages of 9-25 for their humanitarian work. If you win this award, you are invited to a ceremony and have the option to attend development programs to further your leadership and social change. This quote by Princess Diana says it all, “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”
All of these women accomplished something, regardless of whether it was music, literature, or public outreach. We all remember these women today for their strength and the strength they gave us. Their impact on the lives of past, present, and future women can’t be compared, showing us that with hard work, anything is possible!