Ann Petry wanted to be a novelist from the moment a teacher praised her writing in high school, but as happens to so many of us, her parents wanted her to do something more practical. So she studied pharmacy (her father’s profession) and worked in the family business for many years. But she wrote and published short stories on the side.
While working in an after-school program in Harlem, Ann saw for the first time how sheltered her life had been and what most African Americans in the early 20th century had to go through. This inspired her to write The Street, her first novel, which was so wildly popular she became the first black woman writer with book sales topping a million copies. She went on to write several additional novels.
Euphemia Lofton Haynes was a principal and deputy superintendent in charge of Washington’s “colored schools” (the schools for African Americans) before she earned her Ph.D. in Mathematics at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1943, which made her the first African American Woman to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics.
The title of her dissertation was “The Determination of Sets of Independent Conditions Characterizing Certain Special Cases of Symmetric Correspondences.”
Dr. Haynes taught in the public schools of Washington, D.C., for 47 years and was the first woman to chair the local school board. She established the mathematics department at Miner Teachers College, where she was also a professor, and was chair of the Division of Mathematics and Business Education at the District of Columbia Teachers College. In 1959, she retired, but served as head of the city’s Board of Education, and was central to the integration of Washington, D.C. public schools.
While she was a graduate student and junior researcher in radio astronomy at Cambridge University in England, Jocelyn Bell Burnell made a discovery that changed science. In 1967, she was given the mind-numbing task of analyzing three miles of printed data from a radio telescope she helped assemble. That’s when she noticed recurring signals, later called pulsars. These were given off by the rotation of small stars leftover from huge stars that went supernova.
Her discovery was important because it proved that once supernova happened, the stars didn’t disappear, but rather left behind dense rotating stars.
Despite Jocelyn’s contribution, the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to her supervisor, Anthony Hewish, and another Cambridge radio astronomer, Martin Ryle.
In case you don’t remember, Victoria, the poor daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, was a suffragist in the mid-1800s. She was the:
First woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street
First woman to testify before Congress
One of the first women to run a weekly newspaper
First female presidential candidate (1872)
Why isn’t she in our history books? Three main reasons I can tell:
She royally angered her former friends Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They literally wrote the 900+ page book on the women’s suffrage movement, reducing Victoria’s role to an actual footnote. This, then, undermined her importance to future historians.
Not long after her death, a woman named Emanie Sachs published a scathing biography of Victoria that painted her as a harlot and trickster – not the kind of woman anyone would want in the historical record.
She was a woman. (Look at our history. That had to be part of it.)
Victoria Woodhull is the subject of my novel Madame Presidentess, which will be published July 25.
For Women’s History Month (March) I decided to do something a little bit different. I’m starting an Instragram photo challenge where you post a picture of a great woman from history (famous or not) for each day of the month. On top of that, I’m going to be sharing a short post (a paragraph or two) each day about my pick right here on this blog. Here’s the list:
I’m hoping some women’s organizations, and of course, all of you, will join me. Don’t use Instagram? Share your picks on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, or whatever social media you like. The point is to make women’s stories known.
Why am I doing this? Well, if you haven’t guessed from my previous posts and choices of novel subjects, women’s stories are near and dear to my heart. I feel a sense of duty to rescue those in danger of being forgotten from being erased or discarded from the historical record. I know that may seem egotistical, but I have to do what I can. My time in an all-girls high school taught me that every woman has a story and they are all equally valuable. So if you like famous women, post about them. If you prefer the obscure ones like I do, make them known. Heck, post stories from women in your family. Just tell their stories.
Be sure to stop back by tomorrow to see the first post in this series. It’s someone we’ve already talked about a bit here…
Please let me know in the comments if you’re participating. I may just pick someone for a prize…