March 11: European Woman – Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Erzsebet_kiralyne_photo_1867 (1)I’ll fully admit to picking Elisabeth out of personal bias. My family is from Austria on my mom’s side and my grandmother was named after Empress Elisabeth. (My middle name is Elizabeth, although I’m named after the saint that was the mother of John the Evangelist. But I still claim Elisabeth, too.) I’ve been to both Hapsburg palaces in Austria and my grandmother and I are convinced we either knew her in a previous life or are related to her somehow. But I digress.

Known as Sisi to friends and family, she helped bring about the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867, which was a political powerhouse in Europe. Her husband, Franz Joseph, was deeply in love with her, although it doesn’t appear she felt the same. Most biographers report her life being an unhappy one, despite her legacy and noble ranking. Elisabeth was the longest serving Empress-consort of Austria, at 44 years. She was stabbed to death in 1898.

Interestingly, there seems to be a surge in historical fiction about Sisi lately. Recent fictional portrayals include The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin, The Accidental Empress by Alison Pataki and the just published Sisi: Empress on Her Own, also by Alison Pataki.


March 10: Native American Woman: Wilma Mankiller

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Phil Konstantin

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Phil Konstantin

Wilma Mankiller (please, no jokes about her name; according to Wikipedia, it “refers to a traditional Cherokee military rank; it is Asgaya-dihi in the Cherokee language. Alternative spellings are Outacity or Outacite.”) was principal chief of the Cherokee Nation (beginning in 1985), and was the first woman to hold such a position in a major tribal government. She was also an activist for Native Americans, an interest that work began in 1969 with the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island. She founded the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department is credited with improving health care, education and tribal governance for the Cherokee Nation.

She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 1998.

Wilma Mankiller

March 9: African American Woman – Patricia Roberts Harris

800px-Patricia_R._Harris_official_portraitPatricia Roberts Harris began her career as a lawyer and political adviser, even working as a director at IBM for a time. She also served as United States Ambassador to Luxembourg under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and was the first African-American woman to represent the United States as an ambassador. In 1977, she became the first African American woman named to a presidential cabinet (under President Jimmy Carter) and was the first woman to be part of the line of succession to the Presidency. She was 13th in line.



March 8 – Disability: Dorthea Dix

Shortened from Wikipedia:

Dorothea Dix  was an American activist on behalf of the poor and insane wh800px-Dix-Dorothea-LOCo, through a program of lobbying state legislatures and Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums.

She was made aware of the need for reform during a visit to Britain where she met reformers who were making great inroads on behalf of those suffering from mental illness.  After returning to America, Dorthea conducted a statewide investigation of care for the insane poor in Massachusetts. In most cases, towns contracted with local individuals to care for mentally ill people who could not care for themselves and lacked family/friends to do so. Unregulated and underfunded, this system resulted in widespread abuse.

In 1845, she successfully  she convinced the New Jersey legislature to authorize an asylum for the mentally ill, and many more states followed suit after a personal visit from Dorthea. She continued investigations in various northern states until the Civil War broke out and she was appointed Superintendent of Army Nurses by the Union Army, a position in which she served (often ) until August 1865. After the war ended, she focused her attention on crusading for the imprisoned, poor and mentally ill in the south.

March 7: Teacher – Elizabeth Blackwell

March 7- TeacherElizabeth BlackwellBorn in England, Elizabeth Blackwell’s family moved to the United States in 1832 when she was 11. Six years later, the family had a run of bad luck and Elizabeth, her mother and sister were forced to open a school to provide income. In 1847, she was accepted to Genevea Medical College in New York, voted in unanimously by the all-male student body. She graduated in 1849, becoming the first woman to achieve a medical degree in the United States. She’s also the first woman on the UK Medical Register.

In the 1860s, she created the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, the first medical school for women in the United States.  She returned to England at the end of her life, where she continued to teach at the London School of Medicine for Women.


March 5 – Poetry: Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn BrooksFrom Poetry Foundation:

Gwendolyn Brooks was:

  • The first black* author to win the Pulitzer Prize.
  • The first black woman to be poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.
  • Poet laureate of the State of Illinois.

She had a love of reading and writing from a young age and was only 13 when her first published poem, “Eventide,” appeared in American Childhood. By 17,  she was a frequent contributor to the Chicago Defender, a newspaper serving Chicago’s black population. She published her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville in 1945. Throughout her life, she often wrote with politics and civil rights in mind.

*She preferred this term over “African American.”

March 4 – Literature: Ann Petry

First black woman writer with book sales topping a million copiesAnn 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.


March 3 – Mathematics: Euphemia Lofton Haynes

(23 March 1882 – 14 April 1935) (1)From the Math Department of the University of Buffalo:

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.

March 2 – Science: Jocelyn Bell Burnell

March 2-ScienceFrom National

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.