Tell me about an amazing woman in history that I may not have heard about?

(291 Posts)
AwfulMaureen Sat 11-Jan-14 18:16:37

There are LOADS of women in history who've done incredible things or had amazing careers but have been Lucille Bogan an amazing singer from the twenties/thirties who also worked as a prostitute and who wrote and sang some of the most shockingly filthy songs in addition to having a stunning voice.

She began singing professionally as a child having been singing on the street for money...she was offered work in bars. ...I love Lucille Bogan...WARNING...don't play the song in the link if the kids are around!

Tell me your favourite unknown women?

TunipTheUnconquerable Sat 11-Jan-14 18:21:57

I'm very fond of Mary Howard, the daughter of the third Duke of Norfolk and cousin of Anne Boleyn.
She was married to Henry VIII's illegitimate son and the marriage not consummated because they were both too young, then when he died, Henry tried to weasel out of paying her her proper jointure by arguing they'd never been properly married. Her father wouldn't do anything about it because he was too scared of offending the king, so off her own bat at the age of 16 she wrote lots of letters including to Thomas Cromwell to get it sorted out. When her father found out he said she was wiser than a woman should be....

Meglet Sat 11-Jan-14 18:25:28

Irena Sendler who rescued hundreds of Jewish children in the second world war.

theswan Sat 11-Jan-14 18:35:05

Meglet you beat me too it - I was also going to say Irena Sendler! I had never heard of her until about 1 month ago, when I read about her on a thread on here.

Jessie Street is my current favourite :-)

AphraBehn Sat 11-Jan-14 18:36:28

Google my username.

AwfulMaureen Sat 11-Jan-14 18:37:05

WoodBurner thanks for that! Those are some of my pet subjects....I'll enjoy reading about her!

HesterShaw Sat 11-Jan-14 18:41:11

Miep Gies. You've probably heard of her anyway. She was so, so brave. She supplied the Frank family during their time in hiding in Amsterdam, and when Otto came back after the war, after Anne, Margot and his wife had died in the concentration camp, she gave him Anne's diary which she had found and kept safe. I can't imagine what Mr Frank's feelings must have been then. She died in 2010 aged 100.

SunshineOnACrappyDay Sat 11-Jan-14 18:41:40

Christine de Pizan (also spelled Pisan), medieval author and poet. She started writing as a way to earn money when she was widowed at 25. Some consider her to be an early feminist.

Margery Kempe is considered to have dictated the first autobiography in English. She was a mystic, pilgrim, mother, wife author and pain in the arse. I've been studying her and am quite fond of her.

dyslexicdespot Sat 11-Jan-14 18:42:43

Hildegard of Bigen

Artemisia Gentileschi

Harriet Ann Jacobs

to name a few awesome women.

HesterShaw Sat 11-Jan-14 18:43:30

Sunshine I read her chronicles when I was researching the 100 years war!

AwfulMaureen Sat 11-Jan-14 18:44:03

Aaagh so many! Fabulous! Thanks all so much...

I found Jessie Street through a singer-songwriter called Judy Small who wrote a song about her called A Heroine of Mine. I can't find it on YouTube, but it is available on iTunes.

drspouse Sat 11-Jan-14 18:47:57

Ada Lovelace, she has her own day!

creamteas Sat 11-Jan-14 18:48:29
Bathsheba Sat 11-Jan-14 18:49:31

Corrie Ten Boom

Dilidali Sat 11-Jan-14 18:50:30

James Barry.
Read and be amazed!

SundaySimmons Sat 11-Jan-14 18:51:17

Celia Hammond.

She was a model in the swinging sixties and gave it all up to devote her life to the welfare of animals, especially cats.

She is an amazing, selfless woman. Blessed with a beautiful physical appearance but more importantly a beautiful person inside. She is very inspirational and her work is tremdous.

dyslexicdespot Sat 11-Jan-14 18:51:50
dyslexicdespot Sat 11-Jan-14 18:52:25

I love this thread!

LottieJenkins Sat 11-Jan-14 18:53:31

Annie Sullivan She helped Helen Keller who was deaf and blind.

Thisisaghostlyeuphemism Sat 11-Jan-14 18:53:42

Rosalind franklin

alexpolistigers Sat 11-Jan-14 18:53:43
dyslexicdespot Sat 11-Jan-14 18:54:25

I had never heard of James Barry. Thank you for posting, what an incredible story!

AnAdventureInCakeAndWine Sat 11-Jan-14 18:57:04

Nelly Bly, pioneering investigative journalist and round-the-world traveller.

AtYourCervix Sat 11-Jan-14 18:57:46

Ina May Gaskin.

Mary Seacole

Amy Johnson

BelaLugosisShed Sat 11-Jan-14 18:58:30

Fanny Deakin, a true working class hero of mine.

Thisisaghostlyeuphemism Sat 11-Jan-14 18:58:51

I was amazed dilidali - what a life!

Edith cavell

Dr. Apger (?)

Thisisaghostlyeuphemism Sat 11-Jan-14 19:00:04

I'm looking forward to reading more about these, especially your fanny, bella!

alittlebitbockety Sat 11-Jan-14 19:14:00
GW297 Sat 11-Jan-14 19:17:01

I was going to say Annie Sullivan too. I was in Sullivan tutor group in Year 7 at secondary school.

GW297 Sat 11-Jan-14 19:17:19

Also Mary Seacole

amicissimma Sat 11-Jan-14 19:19:09

Caroline Herschel, the first woman to be paid as a scientist.

AphraBehn Sat 11-Jan-14 19:19:33

Couple of others but I do hope you have actually heard of them

Josephine Butler

Mary Wollstonecraft

Barbara Castle

RalphRecklessCardew Sat 11-Jan-14 19:20:11

Hedy Lamarr. 1940s star whose ideas about frequency-hopping made wifi possible.

SundaySimmons Sat 11-Jan-14 19:21:38

Susan Peters.

She was only 31 when she died. She had a luminous beauty and was a terrific actress. Sadly she suffered an accident which rendered her paralysed from the waist down.

She was determined to walk again and a wonderful inspiration and she was able to again but was frustrated by only being given roles that encompassed her disability and confinement to her wheelchair.

Sadly, her health deteriorated and her health was further compromised by anorexia and she died.

When you see her acting, she was very talented and the day she was shot a bright light innHollywood was dimmed.

BlueSkySunnyDay Sat 11-Jan-14 19:22:12

How about Christine Skarbeck/Granville - polish woman from a wealthy aristocratic jewish family who went on to spy for Britain. Its all very James Bond and she was either extremely reckless or very brave - she apparently had "it" (whatever "it" is) and was adored by both men and dogs grin

I am reading The Spy who Loved at the moment.

RalphRecklessCardew Sat 11-Jan-14 19:22:56

That should have read 'movie star'. Seriously, google Hedy Lamar. One hell of a dame.

Amelia Earhart, Jessica Mitford, Shirley Jackson, Rita Levi Montalcini.

Shirley Jackson was a 1950s housewife turned writer

RalphRecklessCardew Sat 11-Jan-14 19:24:15

Aaargh. Phone playing up. Anyway, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has one of the great opening sentences and lives up to it.

chutneypig Sat 11-Jan-14 19:26:25

I completely agree with Rosalind Franklin. I used to work with someone who worked for her, amazing to hear stories of that time.

And on the same vein, Dorothy Hodgkin another outstanding scientist and pioneer in the field.

Their work has had a phenomenal impact on science.

NigellasDealer Sat 11-Jan-14 19:26:31
NearTheWindmill Sat 11-Jan-14 19:28:45

Margaret Beaufort

And Fanny Burney lived a pretty amazing life, and made women writing acceptable.

TwoAndTwoEqualsChaos Sat 11-Jan-14 19:33:11

I was going to say Edith Cavell, Thisis.

Cecily, Duchess of York, a very strong, independent woman, mother and grandmother of Kings.

Meerka Sat 11-Jan-14 19:38:57

Gertrude Bell, explorer in the middle east.

Katherine Swynford mistress and later wife to John of Gaunt. Her descendants became royal.

Artemisia Naval Commander in ancient Persia

Dilidali Sat 11-Jan-14 19:42:30

I must apologise, the food was about to be served, hence my mad haste to post. James Barry was born at the end of the 1700 as a girl. Girls could not become doctors, so she went to medical school aged 15 pretending to be a boy. Which she pretended for the rest of her life. Postmortem it was discovered that she also had a child at some point.

I found about her reading [[ The Book of the Dead]] which is a fantastic book I throughly recommend.

Dilidali Sat 11-Jan-14 19:43:13

Catherine De Medici

Powerful, focused, I'm sure not always pleasant though.

crescentmoon Sat 11-Jan-14 19:45:39
Slatecross Sat 11-Jan-14 19:47:58

Is like to see this thread in Classics!

ariadneoliver Sat 11-Jan-14 19:48:18
DroothyNeebor Sat 11-Jan-14 19:49:13

Sophia Jex-Blake and the rest of the Edinburgh Seven who fought to become doctors

Elsie Inglis, doctor and sufferagette

Greythorne Sat 11-Jan-14 19:50:59


znaika Sat 11-Jan-14 19:53:26

Klara Tsetkin- founder of International womens' day, amazing early champion of women's rights.

Corrie Ten Boom - a Christian lady in Nazi occupied Holland who saved 100s of Jews by hiding them in her house. She co-wrote The Hiding Place telling her story, from which a film was made. Incredible woman

StillPukin Sat 11-Jan-14 20:01:56

CATHERINE BOOTH (<capital letters because I'm passionate about her lol)

She was the wife of William Booth who was the founder of the Salvation Army. His work and his legacy is VERY understated and is mindboggling - however, he would've been nothing without his wife, she did an awful lot of work for which he took the credit because it would've been seen to be disapproved of for a woman to do such work.

DisgraceToTheYChromosome Sat 11-Jan-14 20:05:37

Emilié du Chatelet. Translated the Principia Mathematica into French, foremost mathematical physicist of the 18th century, had a long affair with Voltaire with her husband's approval, got him to popularise Newton's ideas in France, and died in childbirth at 39 having personally selected the father from among her male admirers.

HectorVector Sat 11-Jan-14 20:06:13

Hedy Lamarr as well as being an actress, she was also a Physicist, she jointly patented some very useful wartime technology.

redmayneslips Sat 11-Jan-14 20:07:09

I came on to say Artemesia Gentileschi but see I was beaten to it, incredible life story.

daisyswirl Sat 11-Jan-14 20:08:53

Nicholaa De La Haye..
Inherited the castellen of Lincoln castle and at times was in charge of its defence.Also served as the high sheriff of Lincolnshire for 5 months in 1216. A very brave and feisty lady at a time when women were chattels

HectorVector Sat 11-Jan-14 20:09:32

Also although relatively normal and having lived a relatively normal life Henrietta Lacks' cells helped revolutionise medicine and cancer research.

beatricequimby Sat 11-Jan-14 20:14:25

Cornelia Sorabji - Indian woman who became first woman to study law in England. Did lots of fantastic pioneering legal work in India (although she became very anti- Indian independence at the end of her life-not so keen on her later views).

Vera Brittain - author ofTestament of Youth - about her experiences in WW1. Feminist, journalist, pacifist and mother of Shirley Williams

Winifred Holtby - great friend of Vera Brittain and interesting for the same reasons.

Noor Inayat Khan - as mentioned upthread. Also all the other women agents in WW2 such as Odette Churchill and Violette Szabo.

JanePurdy Sat 11-Jan-14 20:17:17

Elizabeth Garret Anderson - first female doctor & part of a fascinating family

Charlotte Carmichael Stopes - academic, campaigner, feminist

JanePurdy Sat 11-Jan-14 20:18:08

Sorry forgot to convert links!

Also everyone in Jill Liddington's 'Rebel Girls'

Shosha1 Sat 11-Jan-14 20:19:51

Nancy Wake

SOE agent. Brilliant brave woman

LottieJenkins Sat 11-Jan-14 20:20:34
babyphat Sat 11-Jan-14 20:22:41

Harriet Tubman - escaped from slavery and rescued more than 300 slaves.

Elizabeth Fry - Quaker (I think) prison reformer

Badvoc Sat 11-Jan-14 20:25:35

Violet szabo

SundaySimmons Sat 11-Jan-14 20:28:59

Erin Pizzey

Sought to offer women shelter and aid. Sadly, her views were undermined by militant feminists.

stickysausages Sat 11-Jan-14 20:29:01

Marking place, for when I'm not squiffy!!

babyphat Sat 11-Jan-14 20:31:12

Was going to say Violette Szabo but too was too late - so Vera Atkins

Helm, Sarah (May 2005). A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE.

Loved this book

AwfulMaureen Sat 11-Jan-14 20:35:48

Ooh I went off to put the DC to bed and look! Loads! I love it! It's going to take ages to get through them all....thanks so much...lovely sharing our all too quiet heroines....let's hope they're not too unknown for too much longer.

Some I've heard of but plenty I've not!

Donki Sat 11-Jan-14 20:40:16

Hilda of Whitby

Cinnamoncookie Sat 11-Jan-14 20:42:42

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, although not so much historic as she is very much alive. Should have been joint recipient of a Nobel Prize for Physics due to her work with colleagues on pulsars but was shamefully excluded.

(Should admit I am more than slightly biased as she went to the same school as me, and my grandfather was her physics teacher (completely outs self))

SconeRhymesWithGone Sat 11-Jan-14 20:42:51

Irene Morgan, who did what Rosa Parks did a decade before Rosa Parks did it.

AwfulMaureen Sat 11-Jan-14 20:44:12

Oh really Scone? Wow....I wonder what made Rosa Parks famous and not Irene? It must have been the timing?

WhamBamThankYouMam Sat 11-Jan-14 20:48:51

Josephine Baker,

One of the first African-American female superstars, first to star in a major movie. Famous entertainer, dancer, singer.

Worked or the French Military Intelligence gathering/passing on information during WWII, as well as entertaining troops for free.

Civil rights activist.

Adopted and raised 12 children from different ethnicity and backgrounds.

Amazing woman.

PartyPoison Sat 11-Jan-14 20:51:24

I find Eleanor of Acquatine fascinating.

BlueSkySunnyDay Sat 11-Jan-14 20:51:45

Did you see this last year? memorial to wartime women agents

Thisisaghostlyeuphemism Sat 11-Jan-14 20:57:28

Ah whambam, I visited Josephine bakers house in the dordogne (it's now a museum) she was an extraordinary woman.

Thisisaghostlyeuphemism Sat 11-Jan-14 20:59:03

Wow, cinnamon, that's an interesting tale- bit like rosalind franklin then? Terrible!

WhamBamThankYouMam Sat 11-Jan-14 20:59:23

I'm jealous, I'd love to visit that.

This thread definitely needs to go in Classics.

SconeRhymesWithGone Sat 11-Jan-14 21:04:01

maureen Yes, timing did have a lot to do with it. Rosa Parks was a very brave women and so were the several women who came before her.

Rosa Parks' Wikipedia entry gives a pretty good overview with links to the others.

AnAdventureInCakeAndWine Sat 11-Jan-14 21:07:53

To be fair, Rosa Parks also did what Rosa Parks did before she did it (she later said "My resisting being mistreated on the bus did not begin with that particular arrest...I did a lot of walking in Montgomery.") I'm not sure why the 1955 incident was the one that proved most cathartic.

Irene Morgan's case was slightly different in that the reason she (eventually) won her appeal was that she was on an interstate bus travelling between Virginia and Maryland -- the principle at stake was whether Virginia could enforce segregation on an (otherwise unsegregated) interstate bus while it was in Virginia. There was no legal attempt at that point to challenge whether a state could enforce segregation on its own public transport - that didn't come until after the Montgomery bus boycott started.

Interestingly, it wasn't the Parks case that eventually determined the legal position -- because it was a criminal case campaigners were concerned that it would take forever to go through all the various levels of appeal and get to the Supreme Court to consider the constitutional point, so they put together a civil action ( Browder v. Gayle ) on behalf of several other women who had been victims of the segregation policy.

greenhill Sat 11-Jan-14 21:19:46

What about Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist?

Frida Kahlo

Prettykitty111 Sat 11-Jan-14 21:20:02

Jane I was going to say Elizabeth garret Anderson. The first woman to attend UCL to train as a doctor. All the men said she was too delicate to attend autopsies so she went to Uni in France instead and taught herself french to study. She trained so she could bring good quality healthcare to women and children

WhamBamThankYouMam Sat 11-Jan-14 21:27:29

Marie Curie's daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, won the Noble prize with her husband in 1935 and her second daughter, Ève Denise Curie Labouisse, was the head of UNICEF when it won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965.

Ève Denise Curie Labouisse

Irène Joliot-Curie

Changebagsandgladrags Sat 11-Jan-14 21:28:35

Verity Lambert

First producer of Doctor Who.

rabbitlady Sat 11-Jan-14 21:33:02

Mother Ann Lee (a cook from Manchester), founder of the Shaker movement, who 'walked with Jesus as with a lover', and was later considered the female aspect of Christ by some followers.
Mother Lucy Wright, and Sister Rebecca Jackson, also Shakers. Not sure if RJ got to be a Mother. I should know, I wrote my dissertation about these three, but it was some time ago.

RandomMess Sat 11-Jan-14 21:38:12

Grace Darling, risked her own life as a young woman to help her light house keeper father rescue people from a sinking boat off the Farne Islands.

ElBandito Sat 11-Jan-14 21:53:01

I second Nancy Wake. WW2 heroine. Brave, determined and lived her life her way. I know someone who met her. At over 90 she drank him (half her age) under the table!

WallyBantersJunkBox Sat 11-Jan-14 22:19:43
SunshineOnACrappyDay Sun 12-Jan-14 00:13:18

Dorothy Lawrence fought in WWI.

I love this thread smile

morethanpotatoprints Sun 12-Jan-14 00:17:42

Billie Holliday.

Sang it how it was and was a great account of the atrocities happening.
Strong woman who suffered dv, drug addiction but still kept going like she was possessed.

NigellasDealer Sun 12-Jan-14 00:18:44

oh oh poor Princess Gwenllian I only heard of her recently - such a pretty name as well....

NigellasDealer Sun 12-Jan-14 00:19:56

maybe that is a different Gwenllian...

Financeprincess Sun 12-Jan-14 00:35:23

I love reading about the Matildas. They were amazing women.

Matilda of Flanders, William the Conqueror's queen. Feisty.

Matilda of Scotland, Henry I's queen. Gave as good as she got.

Matilda of Boulogne, Stephen's queen. Gathered support for her husband during the war, in her own right.

Empress Matilda, who was nearly our first queen. Her son, Henry II, succeeded to the throne of England and married Eleanor of Acquitaine - she must have reminded him of his formidable mother!

Jeanne de Montbaston.

She worked as an illuminator of manuscripts at a time where lots of idiot scholars used to think no women were professionals (in fact there were all-women guilds at the time, but don't let that spoil a good story).

Jeanne and her husband worked together, in Paris, illustrating some of the most important books of the day. But we know some books were illustrated just by her, including some pictures where she illustrates a really misogynistic text but putting pictures of women picking penises and putting them in a basket. I think it's a giant 'fuck you' to the text. grin.

She isn't 'amazing' in a politically important way but I love her anyway.

joanofarchitrave Sun 12-Jan-14 00:45:37

Most will have heard of her, but Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice movement.

(Can you tell I am jealous I didn't ge to say Christine de Pizan or Margaret Beaufort first?! grin).

Hild of Whitby also important. She headed a monastery of men and women and is one of the most important early(ish) Christian examples of the fact that women were given responsibility in the historic church so precedent is no reason for sexism now.

Also Waris Dirie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, though you've probably heard of them. The first is a model who wrote about her experience of being circumcised at a young age and who is brilliant; the second is a politician who campaigns against FGM, also from a position of knowledge.

seasalt Sun 12-Jan-14 00:49:00

An Irish one ['Malley]

MmeLindor Sun 12-Jan-14 00:50:21

Ooooh. Brilliant thread.

Local woman Victoria Drummond fascinates me. Relatively unknown - she was the first female marine engineer - took the Chief Engineer exam 37 times but they wouldn't allow her to pass.

One attempt ended with the other examinees walking out of the exam as they wouldn't take the exam with a woman.

NigellasDealer Sun 12-Jan-14 00:51:38

seasalt that is sooo weird I was just trying to remember Grace O'Malley's name and then you posted that!

LesserOfTwoWeevils Sun 12-Jan-14 00:51:53

Mary Shelley

Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft

All the women in The Wilder Shores of Love

Pope Joan

Amy Jacques Garvey

AntlersInAllOfMyDecorating Sun 12-Jan-14 00:54:26

Margaret Cavendish

Dorothy Wordsworth

Anne Knight

seasalt Sun 12-Jan-14 00:56:52

Nigella maybe if you had remembered you would have got the link to work properly unlike me smile Still haven't figured out iPad!

MmeLindor Sun 12-Jan-14 00:56:52

Has anyone mentioned Helen Sharman, who answered an advert 'Wanted. Astronaut. No experience necessary' and became first Brit in space.

Am going to spend hours checking out the links on this thread.

I love Pope Joan, lesser. smile

We've not had Flora Sandes yet, have we? She is the only British woman who was officially enlisted in the army in WWI. She actually joined the Serbian army (after doing first aid) because she was so keen to serve - all her family were soldiers.

Agnes Baden-Powell.
Robert B-P created Scouts, but the girls wanted to join in, so his sister Agnes created Guides.

She was later shoved out sidelined by B-Ps much younger wife, Olave. It was Olave's name that appeared in Guiding histories until relatively recently, when Agnes's contribution began to be recognised.


That's really shit, you'll. I know I learned about Olave. sad

traininthedistance Sun 12-Jan-14 01:05:16

Martha Ballard, 18thc midwife in New England who wrote an account of her professional experiences, A Midwife's Tale;

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross;

Mary Hobart, one of America's first professional woman doctors
- all three related!

traininthedistance Sun 12-Jan-14 01:09:01

Clara Barton in particular was an amazing person - an abolitionist, and tended the wounded on Civil War battlefields.

traininthedistance Sun 12-Jan-14 01:14:13

George Eliot

Marianne Moore

Frances Partridge

G. E. Anscombe

Sylvia Townsend Warner

CheesyBadger Sun 12-Jan-14 03:38:34

Marking place, great thread

Two from chez Pratchett. Catherine Bar the Door. DH, quite the history feminist, says Tomoe Gozen.

Thanks for the others, must print this thread.

GoshAnneGorilla Sun 12-Jan-14 04:45:46

Fatima Al Fihri who founded the world's first academic degree granting institution of higher education, which is still running today.

sashh Sun 12-Jan-14 05:35:59

The first couple remind me of a lady I met while working in hospitals.

I commented on her unusual name (can't remember it now and it would be a breach of confidentiality to say it if I could).

She was German and moved to the UK after WWII, which obviously is quite unusual.

She and her husband were undertakers, they had hidden numerous Jewish children in coffins and 'exported' them to various places out of Germany.

She said how scary it must have been for these children.

I wonder how many people like her there are?

And not just people who took part in organised underground activities.

And listening to the radio the other day there was a drama on - not sure if real or fictional - but a Jewish man was about to be arrested by the SS when people, just ordinary random people, got between him and the SS and bundled him on to a tram, which saved his life.

I also reread/read the latest edition or Anne Frank's diary, things have be reedited in to it that were left out of the original publication but were written by AF if that makes sense, things like the names being edited to who they actually are.

Anyway at one point there is a break in at the warehouse, the family hear voices and then silence.

A few days later one of the employees is told by a neighbour that they were walking past at night, saw someone break in and shouted at them to leave. They had not called the police because of 'your situation'.

I wonder how many lives were saved by people keeping quiet, or ignoring things, or not calling the police?

sorry I have totally diverted this thread.

LittleBabyPigsus Sun 12-Jan-14 09:30:08

Sylvia Pankhurst

She was the daughter of Emmaline Pankhurst and sister to Christabel Pankhurst, but is much less well-known. The women's suffrage movement was connected to the eugenics movement and many believed that only women who owned property or were wealthy should be able to vote, but Sylvia wanted all women including poor women and prostitutes to get the vote. She also played a big role in liberating Ethiopia.

Jessica Mitford

She was one of the famous Mitford sisters (well worth looking up in general, a fascinating bunch) and while most of her sisters became fascists, she became an outspoken communist and left her wealthy family to become an investigative journalist and civil rights campaigner in the US. She had an enormous influence on J K Rowling and Rowling's eldest daughter Jessica is named after her.

I recommend the webcomic Hark, A Vagrant, the author Kate Beaton does comics about many things (and is very funny) but a lot of her work is on great women from history, well-known or not well-known.

BonnieWeeJeannieMcCall Sun 12-Jan-14 11:09:47

Jane Haining. Died in Auschwitz with the children she tried to protect.

PennieLane Sun 12-Jan-14 11:14:39

great thread! I've just finishing reading Dowager Empress about Empress Cixi, a pioneering reformer of China by Jung Chang (Wild Swans) would definitely recommend!

Dawndonnaagain Sun 12-Jan-14 11:17:21

Rosalind Franklin, scientist involved in the discovery of dna.

James Miranda Barry, doctor. Born: Margaret Bulkley.

VivaLeBeaver Sun 12-Jan-14 11:19:25

Anne askew

Protestant martyr, only woman to ever have been tortured in The Tower. Refused to implicate others inc Catherine Parr, thereby saving her life. Refused to adopt her married name. Kicked ass all round.

MadAsFish Sun 12-Jan-14 11:25:10

Olympe de Gouges
Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze who redeemed something from one of the most idiotic murders during the Terror.

TheCrackFox Sun 12-Jan-14 11:27:09

Hedy Lamarr Hollywood movie star and inventor

oinktopus Sun 12-Jan-14 11:35:22

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton toured America demanding suffrage and equal pay for women. Anthony was arrested and fined a huge sum simply for voting in an election. The amazing thing is the time period in which this happened. Anthony started campaigning in the 1840s.

JodieGarberJacob Sun 12-Jan-14 11:38:06

The four Trout sisters of Hallsands in Devon. I can't find any links that do all of them justice. Unfortunately the hotel that they built has been redeveloped now but the story of their lives used to be in the foyer and made interesting reading.

Rosina Bulwer Lytton. Rose up against her husband to become a writer in her won right, despite her husband and his influential friends trying to have her certified insane. She was quite a character and although she did some questionable things, she did manage to have a voice in an age where women should be seen and not heard.


ParsingFancy Sun 12-Jan-14 11:45:32

Victoria Mxenge.

Black South African born in 1942, so grew up on the wrong side of the 1953 Bantu Education Act. She trained as a nurse and midwife anyway, then studied law by distance learning and worked at her husband's law practice.

After her husband was murdered by the South African government in 1981, she carried on the law practice without him until she too was murdered by the government in 1985.

LittleBabyPigsus Sun 12-Jan-14 11:46:06

Oinktopus Susan B Anthony was also massively racist though sad She actively campaigned for black people to lose the vote so women could gain it.

neversaydie Sun 12-Jan-14 11:57:51

Isabella Bird. Victorian solo traveller in the USA, Australia, Hawaii, China, Korea, Malaysia and India. And wrote wonderful books about the places she went to.

oinktopus Sun 12-Jan-14 11:58:52

Pigsus Eek! Not quite as noble as I thought.

ParsingFancy Sun 12-Jan-14 12:03:15

Ruth First

Anti-apartheid activist detained, exiled and eventually murdered with a parcel bomb in 1982

Albertina Sisulu

Anti-apartheid activist who was a key figure in several important political groups, was frequently detained, and still managed to fit in her social development work for children and old people.

HowGoodIsThat Sun 12-Jan-14 12:33:50

DD2 (Reception) came home and told me about Bessie Coleman . She dragged herself out of poverty and background of slavery and became the first Africian-AMerican aviatrix.

BoreOfWhabylon Sun 12-Jan-14 12:34:52

Hilda Gibson, who died recently aged 88. She was in in the Women's Land Army (a 'Land Girl') during WWII and later successfully campaigned for Land Girls to receive recognition for their war service.

You can listen to a fascinating interview with her here

ParsingFancy Sun 12-Jan-14 12:37:02

Sophie Germain

Female mathematician born in France 1776, so overlaps with Paulze mentioned above. Her parents took away her clothes to stop her studying maths as it was "inappropriate for a woman".

Eventually they changed their minds, and she was able to start studying by correspondence with the Ecole Polytechnique, using a male pseudonym. She was slowly outed to Lagrange, Gauss and Legendre, and continued to work with them, although her work probably never reached its full potential due to her lack of early grounding in rigour.

legoplayingmumsunite Sun 12-Jan-14 12:42:22

Came on here to say Dorothy Hodgkin, first British female Nobel Prize winner and yet much less known than Rosalind Franklin. Overlooked for the Nobel for years until Max Perutz won it and started to fight her case.

Wow, cinnamon, that's an interesting tale- bit like rosalind franklin then? Terrible!

Just wanted to comment on this. Rosalind Franklin didn't get the Nobel Prize because she was dead by the time it was awarded. She had a bad reputation because of James Watson's book but actually Frances Crick did a lot of work with her after the DNA structure and they got on very well, once she left Kings she did much better professionally because she wasn't as isolated. A lot of the problems she had at Kings may well have been due to anti-semitism as much as misogyny. Having said that I'm not sure how they would have split the Nobel Prize if she had been alive, since it can only be split 3 ways.

Apatite1 Sun 12-Jan-14 12:42:40

Grace Hopper

US navy rear admiral, computer pioneer and one of the reasons you and I are able to speak to each other on the internet:

BillyBanter Sun 12-Jan-14 12:45:53
BillyBanter Sun 12-Jan-14 12:48:01
FairPhyllis Sun 12-Jan-14 12:57:55

Williamina Fleming. Scottish astronomer who discovered the Horsehead Nebula.

Alice Kober. Made crucial contributions to deciphering the Linear B script.

BoreOfWhabylon Sun 12-Jan-14 13:23:51

Mary Anning. British fossil collector and self-taught palaeontologist extraordinaire.

As a working-class woman in 19th century Dorset, she never received the acknowledgement that was her due during her lifetime.

In 2010 (163 years after her death) the Royal Society named her as one of the ten British women who most influenced the history of science.

AnAdventureInCakeAndWine Sun 12-Jan-14 13:28:24

You've probably heard about several of these, but:

Wangari Maathai (envionmental and political activist, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize)

Phillis Wheatley (poet and former slave)

Mary Walker (doctor, surgeon, suffragist and abolitionist)

Henrietta Leavitt (astronomer whose discoveries enabled the distances to remote galaxies to be calculated)

Gertrude "Trudy" Ederle (Olympic swimmer; fifth person, and first woman, to swim the English Channel)

Alia Muhammad Baker (chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, who managed to save 70% of the library's collection during the siege and bombing of Basra)

Maria Merian (naturalist, botanical artist, first to document many new species, made important discoveries about the lifecycle of butterflies and moths)

ALMOSTMRSG Sun 12-Jan-14 13:34:05

Gladys Alyward.
Read about her at school and story has always remained with me. She was a Christian missionary who led over 100 children over the mountains in China to safety from the invading Japanese. She had little education and paid for her own ticket to China. Became a foot inspector for the Chinese government enforcing the ban on foot binding carried out on young girls and ran an orphanage.
Her story was told in the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

BoreOfWhabylon Sun 12-Jan-14 13:37:27

Many have already been mentioned, but here's the Royal Society's list of the 10 most influential British women in the history of science.

EllaFitzgerald Sun 12-Jan-14 13:40:51

Gladys Aylward. She worked as a parlourmaid in London, before taking herself off to China to work as a missionary. She did lots of good work there, before leading 100 orphans across the mountains to escape from the Japanese. Not bad for a parlourmaid.

LittleBabyPigsus Sun 12-Jan-14 13:41:02

Oh and you will have heard of her but not of all her achievements - Beatrix Potter was actually a very accomplished botanist and mycologist (someone who studies fungi).

EllaFitzgerald Sun 12-Jan-14 13:41:30

Almost You beat me to it!

ILoveNiyaz Sun 12-Jan-14 13:41:49

What a lovely inspirational and uplifting thread. I'm sad it's on chat and will be deleted in 90 days, I've bookmarked it so I can research more about about these great women

My offering is Isabelle Eberhardt

Such an adventurous, courageous, fascinating, captivating woman. A true free soul. An excellent travel writer and intrepid traveler.

She was illegitimate and born into an aristocratic family and spoke 6 languages, her and her aristo mother converted to Islam, specifically sufism which was quite 'scandalous' back then. She traveled across North Africa in 1890 something, on her own dressed as a man! She called herself Si Mahmoud Essadi and died in a flash flood at the age of 27. sad

One of her quotes that inspires my travels :

“The cowardly belief that a person must stay in one place is too reminiscent of the unquestioning resignation of animals, beasts of burden stupefied by servitude and yet always willing to accept the slipping on of the harness. There are limits to every domain, and laws to govern every organized power. But the vagrant owns the whole vast earth that ends only at the non-existent horizon, and her empire is an intangible one, for her domination and enjoyment of it are things of the spirit.”

The Nomad: Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt If I ever have a DD, I think I might name her after this woman.

AwfulMaureen Sun 12-Jan-14 13:42:55

ILoveNiyaz I didn't think of that when I posted sad It's great to keep coming back to.

birdybear Sun 12-Jan-14 13:43:26

Gladys Aylward

Unbound many Chinese children's and women's feet and rescued many orphans.

HesterShaw Sun 12-Jan-14 13:44:23

Ask for it to be moved to somewhere? It'll stay forever!

ILoveNiyaz Sun 12-Jan-14 13:47:57

Gladys Alyward.
Her story was told in the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

What a woman! Thanks for telling us about the film. I will definitely be watching this.

TheSmallClanger Sun 12-Jan-14 13:54:36

Marie Marvingt - early C20th French aviatrix, WWI combat pilot, one of the first ever "flight nurses" and a pioneer of the air ambulance concept.

Delia Derbyshire - electronic music pioneer and BBC Radiophonic Workshop member. It was she who arranged Ron Grainer's original Doctor Who theme for electronic instruments - the "oo-wee-OOOOOOO" bit was her idea, basically. That is still one of the most recognisable pieces of electronic music today. Also Daphne Oram, another Radiophonic composer. There were no instruments available on which to perform these two women's ideas, so they made their own, or used tape looping, the precursor to sampling. Both had had to battle hard to be allowed to work there at all.

Buffy Sainte-Marie - composer of both an Oscar-winning film song (Where We Belong) and a folk standard (Universal Soldier). Has lent her hand to lots of musical styles, all the while using her music to raise awareness of Native American issues and culture. She is also not afraid to experiment and push the boundaries of her own culture's musical traditions, challenging some sexism there.

Eileen Collins and Pam Melroy - space shuttle commanders of multiple successful missions.

Peggy Whitson and Suni Williams - former Alpha Commanders of the International Space Station.

Lella Lombardi - winner of multiple sportscar races and the only female driver to score points in a Formula One race.

BoreOfWhabylon Sun 12-Jan-14 13:55:00

Elizabeth Kenny, an unqualified, self-taught Australian bush nurse who pioneered a controversial treatment for polio, involving manipulation of affected limbs in the teeth of accepted medical practice at the time (which was to immobilise in plaster). Although derided as a dangerous quack, she persisted and eventually her methods were accepted, becoming the foundation for modern physiotherapy.

kobacat Sun 12-Jan-14 14:04:25

Teresa of Avila

Aleksandra Kollontai

LittleBabyPigsus Sun 12-Jan-14 14:08:02

ILoveNiyaz report the thread and ask for it to be moved in the comment box.

I loved Suzanne Rodriguez's biography of Nathalie Clifford Barney, an out lesbian writer who was famous for her Paris salons in the first half of the C20th. Haven't read about another person who seemed to love life as much as she did.

She featured in The Well of Loneliness as Valerie Seymour :-p

Colette is well known, but she needs a mention.....she is my favourite.

Janet Flanner....journalist who published lots of articles about Paris life in the New Yorker.

Hmm.....Alienor d'Aquitaine (sp?). Separated from her husband the King in 1152 and seized his regions for herself which later became his rival's (the King of England who she married)- big fuck you to her ex!

smallclanger me and my mum LOVE Buffy! we have a stuffed toy buffalo named after her wink

woodrunner Sun 12-Jan-14 14:36:33

What about Annie Besant? She was a Victorian vicar's wife who lost her faith when her child got really ill, so her husband kicked her out. She became a campaigner for rights and freedom. She led the Bryant & May Matchgirls to the first ever successful strike of unskilled workers in the UK (the year before the famous dockers' strike, who, as brothers and lovers of the match girls were probably inspired by their success.) She used to practise oratory from her husband'spulpit until he booted her out and was, apparently a brilliant public speaker.

When she'd done that she went off to India to campaign with those rebelling against British rule. She comes over as really unegotistical and fair. I'd love to have met her. She's my big historical crush.

ShineyBlackShoes Sun 12-Jan-14 14:45:38

Adan Menken is amongst mine with many others mentioned above, but I have to say there are some kick ass biblical women like Esther

anothernumberone Sun 12-Jan-14 14:50:43

We have lots of them in Ireland associated with the struggle for independance in the last century Maud Gonne and Countess Markievicz to name but 2.

But Eleanor of Aquitaine had to leave her 2 daughters behind in France.

She also fell out with Henry and spent much of her later years locked up away from their children. I love her but she was hard because she had to be sad.

I'm off to have a look on amazon for a cheap book on her Gossamer, got me interested now. I don't know much about her, just what I remember from my French dates book!

anothernumber I tried to squeeze loads in about Countess Constance in my A2 History teacher kept making me cut it down :-p very cool woman

also like the Alexandra Kollontai mention whoever posted that

great thread OP thanks

She has her own section in Helen Castor's She Wolves, along with Matilda, Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou.

AnAdventureInCakeAndWine Sun 12-Jan-14 15:31:15

There's a retelling of the story of twenty-six women heroes of the Second World War in this book

rabbitlady Sun 12-Jan-14 16:19:22

has suffragette annie kenney been mentioned? she was from lees, oldham.

DeeJayYouth Sun 12-Jan-14 16:34:33

Mary Seacole -

She is the "Florence nightingale" who often gets forgotten about.

JugglingBackwardsAndForwards Sun 12-Jan-14 16:36:24

None to add - many mentioned already - oh, how about Vera Brittain, for her inspiring diary "Testament of Youth"
But marking place really, to read all the others thanks

Biscuitsareme Sun 12-Jan-14 16:43:44

Astrid Lindgren, for writing brilliant children's books with strong and subversive female leads. I love Pippi Longstocking and Ronia the Robber's Daughter.

rabbitlady Sun 12-Jan-14 16:45:45

not 'history' yet but an impressive woman in the present time is Lynne Sedgemore CBE - you might want to put her on hold for later? think 'spiritual' leadership.

TheDailyWail Sun 12-Jan-14 16:46:52

Mnhq - please move this thread from chat.

TheDailyWail Sun 12-Jan-14 16:47:53

Oops! Posted too soon! It's too interesting a thread to disappear after 90 days.

ItsATIARA Sun 12-Jan-14 16:52:54

Haven't had time to read through this thread but wanted to add Frances Oldham Kelsey whose attention to detail and sheer bloody-mindedness kept Thalidomide from getting approval to treat morning sickness in the USA. She's still alive, age 99.

JugglingBackwardsAndForwards Sun 12-Jan-14 16:55:19

I'm sure it won't be going anywhere DailyWail but Sunday is MNHQ's gin day day of rest, so we may not hear it's been safely archived under old gin bottles until tomorrow? grin
- I see it's being tweeted and re-tweeted quite strongly ATM
What's that called? A Twitter storm? The dawn chorus? grin

JugglingBackwardsAndForwards Sun 12-Jan-14 16:57:33

Ah, congratulations Frances Oldham Kelsey - wonder if you're reading? thanks

thatwouldbeanecumenicalmatter Sun 12-Jan-14 16:58:46

Veronica Guerin - Irish Journalist who took on local drug lords, they threatened her continually yet despite this and undeterred she still wrote about them, naming and exposing them. They eventually murdered her, her death led to the formation of the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996, Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996 and the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).

There was a film with Cate Blanchett playing Veronica - highly recommended viewing.

I'm not very eloquent and my post certainly doesn't do her justice - she was brave beyond words sad

Preciousbane Sun 12-Jan-14 17:27:53

Blind Joan of Derby a disabled woman burnt for heresy.

OneHolyCow Sun 12-Jan-14 17:46:50

Emma Goldman. Anarchist, feminist and revolutionary.

great quotes

nickymanchester Sun 12-Jan-14 17:49:17

Nadezhda Popova

She was one of the very first female combat pilots.

Nadezhda Popova: Soviet pilot known as 'the Night Witch'

Nadezhda Popova was part of a unit of Soviet women pilots who flew old biplanes to bomb the invading Germans. As the Wehrmacht approached Moscow in 1941, Stalin, influenced by Marina Raskova, one of very few women in the Soviet air force before the war, agreed to set up a women’ s air force unit, a night bomber regiment. From mechanics to navigators, pilots and officers, it was composed entirely of women.

Aged 19, Popova was one of the first to join what became the best-known of three units, the 588th. By then the Soviets had sustained heavy losses of planes, often on the ground, to the Luftwaffe.The women had to do their best with 1920s, wooden biplanes, Polikarpov Po-2s that had been used for training and lacked radios and modern navigational equipment. They could carry two bombs weighing less than a ton altogether.

The rest of the obituary is in the link above, she died 6 months ago.

anothernumberone Sun 12-Jan-14 17:56:00

Veronica Guerin what a great one. I would not have thought of her.

grimbletart Sun 12-Jan-14 18:22:16
WitchWay Sun 12-Jan-14 18:24:43

Mary Seacole

She was a black woman around at the same time as Florence Nightingale & did a similar job.

znaika Sun 12-Jan-14 18:57:30

Okay she's not a historical figure, but does anyone remember Maragret Moth? she died a few years ago, tragically young, but she was an inspiration to me as a young photographer starting and she. She was so beautiful too- in a cool way, just really unique and vibrant and so so brave and full of humanity.

Link Margaret Moth

ALMOSTMRSG Sun 12-Jan-14 19:16:51


Gladys Alyward.
Her story was told in the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

What a woman! Thanks for telling us about the film. I will definitely be watching this.

You'll need a box of hankies.

Gladys Alward was said to be embarrassed that such a fuss had been made when the film was released.
She comes across to me as someone who just wanted to do good. Always been a hero of mine.

Mirage Sun 12-Jan-14 19:22:11

Isabella Bird,travelled the world in the 19th century.
Isabella of Spain,a hugely powerful ruler.

Guess what I named my first DD? grin

BoffinMum Sun 12-Jan-14 19:51:55

Hertha Marks Ayrton, the female engineer. Invented all sorts of things, including a truly brilliant but very simple kind of fan that if used correctly, created a vortex that removed mustard gas from WW1 trenches, saving lives. She also published in the area of electricity. She was refused membership of the Royal Society because she was married.

ProfondoRosso Sun 12-Jan-14 20:00:27

Jean Rhys for me - an incredibly talented writer who had issues with poor mental health and addiction but felt that writing stopped her from being a complete failure. She was never a failure, just a woman who suffered due to circumstances beyond her control and managed to write, IMO, some of the most beautiful, compassionate, modern prose there is.

TheRedQueen Sun 12-Jan-14 20:01:36

Eglantyne Jebb: co-founder of Save the Children and initiator of the Declaration on the Rights of a Child, later the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

KarenHL Sun 12-Jan-14 20:07:21

I'd say Mary Seacole. She went to nurse the soldiers in the Crimean War. A contemporary of Florence Nightingale, but without her resources.

Imo Mary was a heroine.

noramum Sun 12-Jan-14 20:10:32

Lise Meitner, suddenly Chemistry sounded very interesting.

There are not enough of these ladies know and our girls are in desperate need of these ladies as role models.

MmeLindor Sun 12-Jan-14 20:13:55

Oooh. I used to live in Lise-Meitner-Str in Germany but never googled her name.

birdybear Sun 12-Jan-14 20:29:20

My grandmother was at a church meeting that Gladys Alyward spoke at. The book about her is really interesting.

dyslexicdespot Sun 12-Jan-14 20:31:21

Oh yes, Jean Rhys- she is one of my favourite authors. Wide sargasso sea is incredible especially if you love or like Jane Eyre.

ProfondoRosso Sun 12-Jan-14 20:41:27

That's such a brilliant book, dyslexic, I love it.

I read a brilliant biography of JR a few years ago called The Blue Hour - it's definitely worth a read if you're a fan.

Thisisaghostlyeuphemism Sun 12-Jan-14 20:52:44

Beat Sirota Gordon is another hero of mine. An American, she was only 22 when she managed to enshrine women's rights into the new post-war Japanese constitution in 1946.

She's a feminist hero among many Japanese women.

FairlyDinkum Sun 12-Jan-14 20:52:56

I'd like to throw an Australian one into the mix. Deborah Lawrie (nee Wardley) was the first female commercial pilot in Australia. She won a big constitutional law case based on sex discrimination after the airline (who had been forced to hire her) tried to skirt ant-discrimination laws and dismiss her purely based on her gender.
No one here ever seems to know her! She's still a pilot too.

BerylStreep Sun 12-Jan-14 20:55:30

Has anyone mentioned St Ursula?

Early feminist and revolutionary leader?

Basically she had been promised to some rich bloke - the time for the marriage came, and she said that instead she needed to travel round Europe to find herself. Did a Gap Yah round Europe, after which she was executed on the banks of the Rhone with apparently, 11 thousand virgins who were her followers, because of her Christian beliefs.

Great leadership qualities, committed to her ideals, and not prepared to become a chattel.

bunnymother Sun 12-Jan-14 21:12:14

Another vote for the mighty Eleanor of Aquitaine. Extraordinary woman. She was wonderfully portrayed by Katharine Hepburn in The Lion In Winter (incidentally, the President's favourite movie, in West Wing). Also stars Peter O'Toole, Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.

BoffinMum Sun 12-Jan-14 21:40:25

Hilary Heilbron, first woman judge.

KaseyM Sun 12-Jan-14 21:48:55

Noramum, have just spent last hour reading about Lise Meitner - wow! Not only did she co-discover nuclear fission but she refused to use it to develop a bomb. So interesting, will have to discover more.....

ToxicHarpy Sun 12-Jan-14 21:57:59

Sophie Scholl, member of the German Resistance, executed with her brother in 1943 by the Nazis.
There is a biography of her, but it's not terribly well written IMO. She deserves better.

YY to some of my favourites already mentioned: Katherine Swynford, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Harriet Ann Jacobs and Mary Seacole.
Can't help feeling I'm forgetting someone!

EBearhug Sun 12-Jan-14 21:58:40

I was going to go fro Grace Hopper, but she's already been mentioned, so I'll go for Stephanie "Steve" Shirley instead, whose autobiography I'm in the middle of just now. Arrived on Kindertransport, set up a women-only computer programming company till it was made illegal by the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act, and has also done a lot of work to support autism.

BoffinMum Sun 12-Jan-14 22:04:15

The Sophie Scholl film is excellent.

BoffinMum Sun 12-Jan-14 22:04:31
SpottyDottie Sun 12-Jan-14 22:21:14

Diana Barnato Walker

She flew with the ATA during the war and afterwards gained her commercial pilots licence. She was the first British woman to break the sound barrier.

Jobbolino Sun 12-Jan-14 22:43:27

Ernestine Potowski Rose - C19 atheist, abolitionist and women's rights activist deserves to be better known. It's her 204th birthday tomorrow grin

duchesse Sun 12-Jan-14 22:44:47

Mary Wollstonecraft, most definitely an early feminist. Ditto the wonderful Aphra Benn, even earlier.

duchesse Sun 12-Jan-14 22:51:09

There is however one thing that many/most of these women have in common, and that is that they were largely free from domestic chores, either through wealth or because they elected not to marry and had to the means to survive unmarried (whether through work or thanks to a private income).

BoffinMum Sun 12-Jan-14 22:57:35

Very many of them did not have children.

Eanair Sun 12-Jan-14 23:04:02

In that case, duchesse, I offer Hannah Mitchell, who was a genuine working class role model, and whose husband paid for her to be released from jail following imprisonment for her suffragette activities, basically because he wanted her back to cook his tea.

hackneybird Sun 12-Jan-14 23:04:47

Vivan Maier

She worked as a nanny in 1950s and 60s New York and Chicago. When she died alone and in poverty it was found she'd left behind in a lock up 100,000 negatives of the most incredible street photography, that no one had ever seen.

Thankfully she is now being recognised and there is a touring exhibition and a couple of books published.

bunnymother Sun 12-Jan-14 23:05:06

She might be the exception that proves the rule. Most working class women would have been so busy working / attending to their families that they had no time or energy to do anything else.

KingCrimson Sun 12-Jan-14 23:08:38

Rita Levi Montalcini, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for her discovery of nerve growth factor, was an Italian Senator, and died recently at the age of 103.

Robbabank Sun 12-Jan-14 23:09:47

I've just discovered Vivian Maier too!

Loving this thread - some amazing women to research here.

Thanks all.

KingCrimson Sun 12-Jan-14 23:12:13
Eanair Sun 12-Jan-14 23:12:41

I take your point, bunnymother, but there was a surprising number of working-class women in the North West (and probably elsewhere, but this is the area I know best) in factories, mines etc who were very active in general working class activism and trade unionism as well as specific womens rights. The suffragist organisations also ran services to provide meals for these women and their families to allow the women to attend public meetings after work without having to go straight home and cook the tea. Will try to dig out some references, but there are very few web links, unfortunately.

NonnoMum Sun 12-Jan-14 23:17:18

Great thread. Thanks for the contributions. Days and days of reading to do...

doyouwantfrieswiththat Sun 12-Jan-14 23:22:51

if she hasn't already been mentioned Maria Santos Gorrostieta story here

Eanair Sun 12-Jan-14 23:24:32

I believe that the WSPU was one of the organisations that provided the food support as mentioned above, (though I can't find the book at the moment), which isn't to negate the problematic class elements of that organisation.

Other interesting figures in working class women's activism are Sylvia Pankhurst. though from a middle-class background herself, Esther Roper, from a working class background though a lesbian, so husband/children not relevant and Eva Gore-Booth, all of whom were a massive force in female participation in trade unionism.

Eva's sister was Constance Markiewicz, who was a huge figure in Irish Independence, as well as being the first women elected to the British Parliament, though she never took her seat.

EllaMenOhPea Sun 12-Jan-14 23:34:21

Dr Virginia Apgar - had saved the lives of thousands of babies by noticing the early signs of life in newborn babies were vital in telling the outcomes for those babies in aneasthetised mothers. Until she developed the Apgar score (although it wasn't called that until about 10 years later) Drs were mostly concerned about the outcomes for the mothers so no one noticed the patterns among babies. Anyone born since the 50s in the Western world will have been given an Apgar score at 1 & 5 minutes after birth.

Also Betty Williams & Mairead Corrigan. Nobel peace prize winners after founding Women for Peace in Northern Ireland in the 70s after both were affected by the Troubles.

Great thread by the way. Hope it becomes a classic smile

Mellowandfruitful Sun 12-Jan-14 23:55:08

I came on to post Mary Kingsley, saw NigellasDealer had done so first, but am going to add a bit about her. Neice of Charles Kingsley (author of The Water Babies), didn't get to be educated formally like her brother but taught herself at home. Became the carer for both her parents and when they died, used her inheritance to explore Africa alone and wrote two best-selling books about her travels.

To add someone new, don't think Elizabeth Gaskell has been mentioned yet - not as famous as her friend Charlotte Bronte, whose biography she wrote, but a fantastic novelist in her own right, writing about the social problems of the Victorian era - and though she isn't exactly working-class herself, she writes about the poor and working-class knowledgeably - she lived in Manchester for some time with her minister husband and this informed her writing.

mrscog Mon 13-Jan-14 08:11:34

Lucie Aubrac - she was in the French resistance and showed untold bravery to help her husband escape, also very much a feminist. Her book is short and well worth a read.

LittleBabyPigsus Mon 13-Jan-14 08:46:48

Most of the women mentioned who were black women involved in civil rights were working-class and had plenty of domestic duties, as were the women of the trade union and labour movements.

AtticusMcPlatypus Mon 13-Jan-14 09:07:47

Selina Cooper. Born in Cornwall in 1864 but moved to the north after the death of her father. Got involved in trade union activities whilst working in the textile factories and was an early objector to the harassment the mainly female workers were subjected to by the male workers. Became the first woman to represent the Independent Labour Party and campaigned for women's suffrage. Later she became a lead campaigner in the fight against fascism. A truly inspiring woman who stood up to the injustices that resulted from the male dominated world at the time.

mypavlova Mon 13-Jan-14 10:51:43

Tomyris queen of the nomadic steppe people, the Massagetae, who defeated Cyrus the Great.

sisterofmercy Mon 13-Jan-14 13:19:22

I've just discovered that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was also the first woman mayor in En gland as well as a notable doctor. Amazing.

Maud Karpeles Folk song collector and historian - must have been brave to go to some of the places she did to collect songs and dances.
Jayaben Desai Jayaben Desai lead a strike at a photographic processing lab which was largely staffed by 1st generation Gujarati women. Although they were ultimately unsuccessful (after a long strike supported by miners and posties featuring violent scenes at the picket line), Desai showed that you couldn't pay Asian women below average market rates or withhold information from them just because of some racist stereotype of being submissive and unable to read and English well.

Fleta Mon 13-Jan-14 14:21:07

Nancy Astor - first female in parliament to introduce a bill

Simone de Beauvoir - author of The Second Sex - prominent feminist.

Betty Friedan - political activist and campaigned with special references to women not being satisfied as housewives.

JamNan Mon 13-Jan-14 14:38:12

Eudora Welty, writer

Martha Gellhorn, novelist, journalist and travel writer (survived being married to E Hemingway)

Eleanor Roosevelt, US First Lady with her own agenda

Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn, social reformer, suffragette, and helped introduce contraception to USA women. Mother of Katharine Hepburn actress

Maureen Dunlop de Popp, and all the other female pilots who flew Spitfires, Lancasters and Hurricanes during WW2

Erin Pizzey, novelist and set up one of the women's refuges

Maya Angelou, American author and poet.

Fascinating thread OP

vladthedisorganised Mon 13-Jan-14 14:39:35

I was going to say Sophie Scholl - but how about Hannah Szenes?

JamNan Mon 13-Jan-14 14:39:42

one of the first women's refuges in England

JamNan Mon 13-Jan-14 14:45:10

Christabel Bielenberg, writer, opposed Nazism in Germany during WW2 at great personal risk.

Absy Mon 13-Jan-14 15:13:51

Someone's already mentioned her but Beate Gordon who helped write the Japanese constitution after WW2, and ensured that women were granted more rights.

Helen Suzman was a South African parliamentarian and the only one to unequivocally vote against Apartheid for 13 years. She also helped campaign for prisoners rights (including helping Mandela get long trousers for black prisoners - not mentioned in the film BTW, but mentioned in Long Walk to Freedom). Highly instrumental (more than Bono) in bringing an end to Apartheid.

slug Mon 13-Jan-14 15:45:39

Kate Edgar the first woman in the British empire to gain a BA. She did this by not mentioning, when she applied for university, that she was female.

Kate Sheppard was one of the driving forces behind NZ being the first country to grant women the vote.

Helen Clark at her defeat, was the longest serving elected female head of state in the western world.

spots Mon 13-Jan-14 16:08:34

Mary Somerville, mathematician and astronomer in a time when women just... didn't. She just quietly and competently got on with it, and.... did.

perfectstorm Mon 13-Jan-14 16:29:36

Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin discovered what the universe was made of. Literally - it's mainly hydrogen. Unfortunately she was told not to publish at the time she proposed this, as it flew in the face of all current theory. The supervisor who told her not to do so later published the theory himself, and got most of the credit, though in fairness he credited her work himself in his own. In the 1920s this was simply ignored.

The actress Hedy Lamarr invented wi-fi. Back in the 1940s - we know that because she took out a patent on the idea, which is why a company wanting to utilise her suggestions paid her to do so as recently as 1998. Bluetooth is based on it. She wanted to support the war effort at the time; it wasn't meant to make her rich.

The atom wasn't only split by Hahn and two other chaps, despite their being the ones to snaffle the Nobel Prize. In fact letters written between him and his colleague, Lise Meitner, indicate the final leap was made by her.

The role of chromosomes in determining sex was established by Nettie Stevens in 1905. Unfortunately for her, the man who widely promoted this theory was also her boss and the writer of her obituary (she died of breast cancer in 1912), so when he said she was pretty much just a technician and obscured her role, he got all the credit.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, when a PhD candidate, observed the first pulsars. Her supervisor was initially pretty dismissive but once convinced, co-authored a paper with her along with 3 other astro-physicists. She was named second, her supervisor first... yet despite her key role and provision of the most significant data, she was not awarded the Nobel Prize for the work when her supervisor and another male colleague were.

Rosalind Franklin is not an outlier or even unusual - in her discoveries, or the overlooking of them. I remember these women when I hear people insist that there aren't any brilliant women scientists (or artists, or writers). It makes me wonder how many we just don't know about at all, and who can't be rediscovered once their paperwork is unearthed by feminist researchers, existed down the years, supporting the research done by their fathers, husbands and brothers.

mckenzie Mon 13-Jan-14 16:36:23

this thread is perfect for one of my new year plans.
I'm going to print it off and work my way through, one person per day and learn something new everyday.
Thank you all.

Maisycat Mon 13-Jan-14 19:51:11

Elfriede Scholz, and Ellen Wilkinson.

ParsingFancy Mon 13-Jan-14 20:05:49

That's reminding me of the early C20th mathematician Emmy Noether, perfectstorm, who taught unpaid at the University of Göttingen because the faculty wouldn't appoint her to a proper position.

The various biographies seem to cast David Hilbert as her mentor and protector, but IIRC the story going round when I was at college was that he'd nicked some of her work to publish as his own.

BodminPill Mon 13-Jan-14 21:50:02

Laura Secord

CheshirePanda Mon 13-Jan-14 21:50:15

Wow....feeling so inspired. I've never seen such a wide and varied list of amazing women. I am going to save this thread and use it to educate my daughter.

Mumsnet HQ: please move this so it lasts forever

JugglingBackwardsAndForwards Mon 13-Jan-14 22:17:46

Oh look, seems like it's made a quiet but dignified move to Classics smile

SunshineOnACrappyDay Mon 13-Jan-14 22:30:35

Great news smile

EBearhug Mon 13-Jan-14 22:31:42

Elizabeth Lilburne, Leveller.

AwfulMaureen Mon 13-Jan-14 22:49:06

Ooh how nice! smile I've never had a thread in Classics before! It's got some amazing stuff in it though...and I'm so glad there are so many people on here who know all of these amazing women's stories and have shared them. flowers

SconeRhymesWithGone Mon 13-Jan-14 23:34:57

Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria is a very interesting woman. She was an artist who insisted on going to art school at a time when royals, especially women, were not usually educated outside their palaces. She was a supporter of women's rights and was the first British princess since Mary Tudor (sister of Henry VIII) to marry a non-royal. The province of Alberta in Canada is named for her.

Princess Louise

TootleFrootle Mon 13-Jan-14 23:41:36

I can highly recommend the book Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice, about Agnes and Margaret Smith, Scottish twin sisters who were linguists (they read more than 12 languages between them), academics and explorers in nineteenth century Egypt.

also a fan of Gertrude Bell, another scholar of the ancient Middle East, indomitable traveller, who was the only female British political officer in the First World War Gertrude Bell. An extensive archive of her life and work is held at Newcastle Uni, Gertrude Bell Archive

TootleFrootle Mon 13-Jan-14 23:50:24

I found this event very moving, i was an undergrad at the time:

Cambridge women return to collect their degrees Until 1948, women at Cambridge Uni could study the same courses as men but they were merely awarded the snidely entitled 'B.Tit'. (Bachelor Titular) When it was decided retrospectively to award those bearers of the B.Tit who wished it, the full Cambridge degree in 1998, many presumed a handful of old dears might turn up. Actually, four hundred women did so, some in their nineties with zimmer frames to support them as they shuffled across the floor of Senate House. The right to an equal education is so very precious and those women were at the van guard of a privilege that I never want my daughters to take for granted.

TootleFrootle Tue 14-Jan-14 00:05:29

Dorothy Garrod, archaeologist, was the first woman to hold an Oxbridge chair, i.e. to become a full professor
Dorothy Garrod

I was remiss in not mentioning that Gertrude Bell was primarily an archaeologist, she gained a First in Modern History from Oxford and also, out in the field in very tough conditions, she was a superb photographer of archaeological ruins. Many of her images are still used as primary research material because much of the stuff she photographed has disintegrated considerably since or disappeared altogether. She was also instrumental in the formation of modern day Iraq.

SconeRhymesWithGone Tue 14-Jan-14 00:20:56

Two more women from the American Civil Rights Movement, one of whom died as a result of her activism:

Viola Liuzzo

Virgina Durr

funnyperson Tue 14-Jan-14 01:09:38

Vijaya Laxmi Pandit, first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1953. Her husband died in jail supporting Indian independence.
Vasundhera Raje, democratically elected by more than 71 million people, current Chief Minister of Rajasthan, and a great modern administrator.

Thisisaghostlyeuphemism Tue 14-Jan-14 11:20:06

Ooh has anyone mentioned Hannah Arendt?

German-born philosopher, writer and professor, she covered the Eichmann trial and coined the phrase, 'the banality of evil'.

Frizzbonce Tue 14-Jan-14 14:16:14

Ida and Louise Cook. Ida was a prolific Mills and Boon author in the 1930s. The sisters were keen opera fans and on their travels across Europe they discovered the plight of the Jews, and using Ida's money they began to smuggle refugees out of Austria and Germany. Before they went the Nazis would rob them and impose huge taxes on fleeing Jews, so anything taken out would have to be portable. Ida would wear a family's entire fortune in a brooch openly pinned to her Woolworths cardie. Then put the money in a British bank so the family would have money to survive on when they reached England. (Because back then the UK Govt were just as 'welcoming' to refugees even when it became clear that Hitler was intent on genocide). The border guards never stopped or questioned these two little spinster ladies. They only stopped when war broke out. Ida and Louise were recognised as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem in 1963.

babybarrister Tue 14-Jan-14 15:19:13

I was also going to mention Rita Montalcino - amazing woman indeed

What about Rigoberta Menchu

SleepPleaseSleep Tue 14-Jan-14 16:42:38

She's not historical, but I'm an admirer of Jane Goodall. Back when women still weren't thought to think shock she went out to middle of nowhere in Africa and quietly set about revolutionising primatology and now works in conservation.

Historically I'm also interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine!

HesterShaw Tue 14-Jan-14 17:03:22

Define "historical" though - her work certainly goes back a long way.

Juliealpha Tue 14-Jan-14 21:34:04

Prof Jane Somerville. cardiac prof and mother of 4

Rosalind Franklin, worked on the discovery of DNA, and horribly over looked by Watson and Crick (both men!)

Thisisaghostlyeuphemism Tue 14-Jan-14 21:49:50

While we're mentioning janes, I will add that little remembered English poet, Jane Taylor. Author of twinkle twinkle little star.

duchesse Tue 14-Jan-14 23:07:32

I read that poem only yesterday to DD3! DD3 assured me that I was quite wrong and that there was only the first verse to the song/poem.

cremolafoam Tue 14-Jan-14 23:19:26
cremolafoam Tue 14-Jan-14 23:27:05
Gatogris Tue 14-Jan-14 23:35:53

You have probably never heard of her.

Micaela Bastidas She and her husband led a rebellion against the Spanish Crown.
Tomasa T'ito Condemayta, another woman who fought with them against the Spanish crown.

Flora Tristán French- Peruvian feminist.
María Jesús Alvarado Rivera

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Gatogris Tue 14-Jan-14 23:43:39
SkaterGrrrrl Tue 14-Jan-14 23:47:37

I heart this topic, OP.

Deliaskis Wed 15-Jan-14 13:39:47

Can I nominate Nelly Bly , an american journalist in the late 1800s who faked insanity so she could go undercover in a mental asylum and report on conditions there.

AnAdventureInCakeAndWine Wed 15-Jan-14 15:09:29

You could if I hadn't nominated her on Saturday grin. But you can certainly second her...

Deliaskis Wed 15-Jan-14 15:41:13

Ooops sorry, I really thought I had trawled the whole thread to avoid duplication, turns out I missed a big picture right there on page one. blush


BOFtastic Wed 15-Jan-14 16:18:50

I saw a clip on The Antiques Roadshow featuring an amazing sampler, stitched by a workhose inmate, Lorina Bulwer, who sounded like a fascinating woman. The museum curator, Ruth Burwood, looks a pretty fantastic, intelligent and passionate person too!

BOFtastic Wed 15-Jan-14 16:22:12

Wow, I've found a transcript of Lorina's embroidered rant- hear her roar!

OneHolyCow Wed 15-Jan-14 16:39:26
GeekLove Wed 15-Jan-14 21:10:50

I have Ada Roddick whose work on radiochemistry directly preceded Lise Meitner's work. she observed some unusual contamination in a chemical solution and hypothesized that they were fragments from heavy elements which had undergone fission.

Also Marie-Anne Pirette Paulze the wife of Antoine Lavoisier.
Originally his child bride her interest and innate skill at science was a meeting of minds. Her skill at languages lead her to seek out foreign research papers which were of interest which she would translate. She wrote up much of Antoine's research and used what would be described as Design of Experiment methods to ensure that experiments were repeatable and consistent. During the French Revolution she fled with as much of the original research documents that she could carry.

suburbangirl Wed 15-Jan-14 23:33:10

Martha Gelhorn.

There's a great biography of her that I highly recommend.

kittensarecute Thu 16-Jan-14 00:44:18

I know she's been mentioned a few times but Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. I'm actually distantly related to her on my mothers side.

AwfulMaureen Thu 16-Jan-14 07:31:50

Bof How fascinating is that!? reminds me of those artists now who stitch Feminist thoughts onto traditional samplers....

growingolddicustingly Thu 16-Jan-14 20:18:49

I have been trying to write a romping fictional tale based on her life story for the past 20 years! I will get it done, I will.

NonnoMum Thu 23-Jan-14 23:15:12

Great thread. Will keep coming back to it...

KateSMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 07-Mar-14 16:45:55

Hi folks,

To celebrate International Women's Day, we've created a page of some of these fantastic women that history have forgotten. Thanks so much for telling us about these remarkable women.

Lorina Bulwer looks fascinating - her works reminds me so much of Tracy Emin!

yegodsandlittlefishes Fri 07-Mar-14 16:54:36

I've just noticed that today's Google doodle is to celebrate International Women's Day. Great that MN is marking the occasion. grin

lionheart Sat 08-Mar-14 14:53:30

Anna Freud

For picking up some of those Freudian threads but making her own contribution to psychoanalysis and in particular to child psychology.

Setting up The Hampstead War Nurseries and studying, through direct observation, the effects of neglect, trauma and separation on young children.

A central figure in the development of child psychology in the frst half of the twentieth century.

Many publications but especially The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (1936).

TootleFrootle Sat 08-Mar-14 20:10:16

Ninette de Valois forged the identity of British ballet in the inter-war period, resulting in the Royal Ballet and the Sadlers Wells Ballet (now Birmingham Royal Ballet).

de Valois died aged 102 (1898-2001). I met her when she was in her nineties and she was still sharp as a tack, utterly terrifying grin and charming. What a force - powerfully creative (a choreographer whose works, e.g. CheckMate, are still performed), a visionary (there was no such thing as 'British ballet' in the 1920s, she brought it into being being marshalling the likes of dancers including Fonteyn & Helpman, the choreographer Frederick Ashton, and composer Constance Lambert) and with a very smart business head on her dancer's shoulders.

While on the subject of ballet and women, Alicia Markova and Margot Fonteyn put British ballerinas firmly in the spotlight where as previously (and the clue is in the Europeanisation of their names, born plain Lillian Alicia Marks and Peggy Hookham respectively) British dancers had felt rather inferior to the Russians, French and Danish ballet companies.

TootleFrootle Sat 08-Mar-14 20:17:00

I like Bob Thaves' comment about the legendary dancer Ginger Rogers

[Commenting on the dancer Fred Astaire] "Sure he was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards...and in high heels!"

Sort of sums up for me in a metaphorical sense how so many women's achievements were outstanding in their own right, but even more so when we consider the context of their times across history: their often limited access to education, to the right to own their own property and have autonomy over their own income - their own bodies even.

NigellasGuest Sat 08-Mar-14 20:46:13

Margot Fonteyn for her beautiful line.

Mary Anning for digging up dinosaurs.

piebald Sat 08-Mar-14 22:36:23

Nancy Wake

RuddyDuck Sun 09-Mar-14 16:43:29

I've just read a biography of Henrietta Lacks (The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot).

Although she died not knowing the contribution she was going to make to world health, her cancer cells (HeLa cells) have been used in virtually every medical discovery since she died. They were fundamental in the development of a Polio vaccine, in the development of retrovirals to combat HIV, they have been sent into space, they have. There's a little bit about her

Katacharin Mon 10-Mar-14 09:40:38

Hi, I love the list!

I've just set up a new online project which I thought you might be interested in. (Also launched on IWD!)

Sheroes of History is a new blog and podcast which will shine a spotlight on amazing heroines of the past! From women whose names you may have heard, to those whose stories are less well known.

History has overwhelmingly been written by men, about men. There are a handful of amazing women we have heard of, but there are so many more whose inspiring stories have gone untold. I believe that young girls especially need more rolemodels to look up to: Sheroes who will show them that they can be whatever they want to be; that they can change the world; that their actions can make a difference and that girls can be superheroes too.

Sheroes of History aims to be inspiring, informative and inclusive, celebrating remarkable women from all walks of life.

I'm hoping that as well as adults using the blog/podcast it will be accessed by younger women & girls too - I'm aiming for the language used on the blog to be as accessible and easy to understand as possible. In the long run I hope to use the stories gathered on the blog to inspire other resources & events specifically aimed at younger girls.

Please check out the blog at

There is also a Facebook page ( and you can follow on twitter @SheroesHistory

I would be so grateful if this is something you would be able to share. I'm hoping for people to get involved and contribute to the blog, telling us about their own historical Sheroes.

I will be sharing the mumsnet page via Sheroes of History too!

Thanks so much, Naomi Wilcox-Lee

Shallishanti Mon 10-Mar-14 19:56:16
lionheart Tue 11-Mar-14 11:35:53

Good idea, Kata. smile

mumtobetothree Wed 25-Jun-14 00:22:00

Mary Lindell was a remarkable woman, I've been reading about her recently after reading a book about the Cockleshell Heroes.

During WWII she worked against the Nazis and created escape routes in France and helped get airmen, soldiers etc out of the country. She was arrested and served 9 months in solitary confinement, when released she became ill with pneumonia, warrants were issued for her re-arrest and execution by the Gestapo for the aiding of the enemy and she managed to escape to England, where she joined MI9 and returned to France.

On her return to France she was badly injured and after being treated in a hospital was hidden in a cellar as the Gestapo had been informed of her return and were searching for her. She was eventually arrested in 1943 but managed to escape again by jumping from a moving train unfortunately the guards shot her in the head twice. She survived and was moved to a concentration camp where she was given a job nursing instead of being executed. When the camp was liberated at the end of the war she marched over and let them know exactly what had been going on!

This amazing lady was a countess, she lived to the grand age of 92 and thanks to her hundreds of lives were spared the hands of the Gestapo. There's loads I've missed out, but she's well worth reading about. For a detailed description of the sort of risks she undertook and the organisation her lines took, the respect she'd earnt herself etc I wholly encourage you to look up the cockleshell heroes, she saved them.

FannyFifer Wed 25-Jun-14 00:37:10

Has anyone said Mary Somerville?

Couldn't see her mentioned, but an absolutely amazing woman in the field of science.

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