Throughout the month of March, we celebrate Women’s History Month. The great and varied contributions that females have made to our planet should be honored and studied throughout the year. However, since this month reminds us to focus our attention on women, let’s share some stories of the roles that women have played in history.
Putting on my former history teacher cap, I offer a few examples of moms who have made their mark in our culture, our politics, and our families.
Benazir Bhutto was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988, at the age of 35. In doing so, she became the first woman to lead a democratic government in a Muslim nation. She considered herself a strong advocate for women’s rights and pushed for a secular government. Bhutto accomplished all of this while maintaining a respect and adherence to her Muslim faith.
Bhutto was mom to two daughters and a son. When she gave birth to her daughter Bakhtawar, she became the first head of government to have a baby while in office. Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007 as she waved to a crowd following a speech. The killing was likely carried out by Pakistani Taliban. Malala Yousafzai, the woman many of us know as the schoolgirl from Pakistan who was shot in 2012 in retaliation for advocating for education for women and girls and who since has won the Nobel Peace Prize, lists Benazir Bhutto as an influence.
Ms. Curie’s name is a standard one for every student in high school physics, as well it should be. The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, she remains the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. And she discovered two elements that we now find on the periodic table!
Her husband, Pierre, became so intrigued by the groundbreaking work she was doing with radioactivity that he left his own research in crystals to join her efforts. During World War I, Marie Curie set up twenty mobile field hospitals with basic x-ray equipment made possible by her research. Ms. Curie died at the age of eighty-six after years of exposure to dangerous radiation. She passed on a love of learning and service to her two children. Her daughter Irene won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 along with her husband Frederic Joliot-Curie. (They hyphenated their last names upon marrying . . . quite progressive in 1926!) Curie’s daughter Eve became a journalist. She wrote her mother’s biography and spent decades visiting over 100 countries for her work with UNICEF.
We’ve all heard that duct tape can fix anything, right? I certainly used it to hold pieces of my car together in the past. And it proves itself a trustworthy sealant for boxes! Did you know a mom who wanted to help hers sons as they fought overseas in World War II invented it? While working at an ammunition plant in Illinois, Stoudt noticed the thin tape used to hold the waterproof seal in place on boxes often ripped. This cost soldiers precious seconds as they struggled to open boxes that now had no tab to pull.
Stoudt suggested using a cloth tape, both strong and waterproof, to her boss. When no progress was made, she wrote directly to President Franklin Roosevelt! Her letter got into the hands of the War Production Board, and the company Johnson & Johnson was asked to develop the product. So, the next time you use a roll of duct tape? You can thank a mom who wanted to make her sons — and all other soldiers — a little safer and more equipped during war.
Sojourner Truth was a human rights activist. She spoke across the country on issues ranging from abolition to women’s rights to prison reform. Born into slavery in New York, Truth gained her freedom in 1826. However, her older children were not yet free because the emancipation order in New York required that children remain with their owners until completing a certain number of years in enslavement. The order also stated that these children could not be sold out of state.
When Truth learned her son had been sold to a new owner in Alabama, she filed a complaint with the Ulster County grand jury. She proceeded to raise money for an attorney and stated, “I’ll have my child again.” Truth won her case. Her son was returned to New York. In fighting for her child, Truth became one of the first black women to take a white man to court and win the case.
We all know there are millions of amazing moms who never will find their way into a history book. But, you can be sure they are making a difference in the lives of their families and communities. As we celebrate women this month, take time to share the stories of famous moms throughout history with your kids. (The four I’ve shared represent just a few of so many whose biographies can be found in books and online.) But also? Point out the women in your neighborhood who, without fanfare, make the world around them a better place every day.