#OneDayIWill: A Blog for International Women’s Day #OneDayIWill: A Blog for International Women’s Day
BY KENDYL COUNTS   “Girls don’t usually pay attention to history.” These words, as antiquated and outdated as I had thought them to be,... #OneDayIWill: A Blog for International Women’s Day

women in history



“Girls don’t usually pay attention to history.” These words, as antiquated and outdated as I had thought them to be, were actually said to me, in complete sincerity. I – a human being of the female variety – had just been questioned as to whether I was aware of a major event in our nation’s history: the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Indignantly I replied that, why yes, I was. (How exactly I could possibly be unaware was beyond me.) With that, I hit the books. Though I hold no grudge against the speaker of the unwelcome remark, the whole exchange left me in a state of irritation and curiosity; why do people assume that girls don’t care about history? And better yet, why should we? Accounts of history as we know them are overwhelmingly male-dominated, and as far as my World History textbook is concerned, including a paragraph per chapter entitled “the patriarchy” or “women’s roles” is enough to satisfy the other roughly 50% of their readership. As I’ve discovered, despite the vast underrepresentation of women in history (which is mostly due to the fact that women were underrepresented in history even when what is now history was considered the present), girls should care about history, because as the following accomplished and influential ladies exemplify, we help to create it.


Theodora of the Byzantine Empire (500 C.E. – 548 C.E.)

This particular history textbook Traditions and Encounters 4th Edition rewarded Emperor Justinian’s wife with a respectable mention over the course of five sentences or so. Despite what some might deem a questionable past, she was remarkably ambitious; it was not by accident that she came about her title as empress. Throughout her husband’s reign she offered council on a wide range of political, economic, and diplomatic issues, and she wielded her power as a tool to aid in women’s progress, often proposing laws to protect their rights within the empire as early as 527 C.E.


Empress Wu Zhao (624 C.E. – 705 C.E.)

Also known as Wu Zetian, she was aggressively resourceful and was something of a dreamer; she had big plans for a political career, and was practically unstoppable on her journey to get there. As wife to the emperor Gaozong, she served as an imperial advisor, giving her thoughts regarding issues and demanding social reform. Apparently, however, despite the fact that she was the first and only empress to ever single handedly rule over China (she claimed the throne in 690 C.E.), she wasn’t worthy of inclusion in the index of my primary resource: my textbook. Trust me, it goes right from “Wu Ding, King of China”, to “Xavier, Francis”.


Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)

Growing up in a racially segregated area in the early 1900s, there weren’t many socially acceptable professional occupations for young black women. This held especially true in aviation, a field with few pilots that were not wealthy, caucasian males. Fascinated by the idea of flying but turned down by American aviation schools due to her gender and race, Coleman decided to learn to fly in France and made this possible with her savings and the financial backing of millionaire Robert Abbott. When she returned to America in 1921 she was praised as the first African American female pilot, and she used her recognition to encourage others to follow suit, even refusing to perform stunt shows at white-only venues until her tragic last flight in 1926.


Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998)

A woman that speaks to my own personal interests, Gellhorn was a novelist and journalist that worked as a war-correspondent during some of the most controversial and dangerous conflicts of the 1900s. Actively travelling throughout Europe during World War II with the goal to capture the essence of war in blunt honesty, Gellhorn witnessed many key events of the conflict, even going so far as to sneak onto an infirmary ship to see for herself the D-Day landings in Normandy. If all of these things elude you and this is the first you’ve heard of this determined, brilliant woman, you may have heard of her ex-husband instead. Does Ernest Hemingway ring a bell?


Dr. Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

When you think about the structure of DNA, which probably isn’t particularly often, James Watson and Francis Crick most likely come to mind. Contrary to popular belief, they didn’t simply pull the hypothesis that DNA takes the shape of a double helix out of nowhere. Rosalind Franklin, who had a PhD in physical chemistry, captured the first ever photo of the mysterious molecule in 1952, finally revealing its structure, a feat known by many as the “single most important advancement of modern biology.” Watson and Crick, who had been previously considering the possibilities of triple-stranded DNA, based their famous model on this photograph and barely bothered to credit Franklin when they published their discovery before she was able to publish her own. Along with scientist Maurice Wilkins, the two men won the 1962 Nobel Prize for their model, though many believe that had she not died of ovarian cancer due to excessive radiation exposure four years earlier, Dr. Franklin would have accepted the prize alongside them.


History is the story of great men and their triumphs – Alexander the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Alfonso the Brave. Rarely do we encounter women with these titles; words such as “mighty” and “fearless” don’t tend to make appearances in descriptions of the stereotypically meek and docile. But as much as some would love to deny it, women aren’t only recently beginning to assert their status as equals to men in ability and wit- they’ve been doing so for thousands of centuries. Just as these women have lived through the issues of their respective nations and “present days,” I live my life burdened with the doubts of others as to what females can and can’t do. Yet here I am, in 2016, paying attention to major historical concepts, witnessing others make history, and preparing to make my own. But it’s not like I care or anything, right? After all, I am just a girl.