Ten Strong Women You’ve Never Heard Of

Ten Strong Women Youve Never Heard Of

Everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart and Gloria Steinhem when it comes to the women who pioneered history, but who are the hidden gems that continue to inspire women today? The women who had to live in the shadows of men or who simply were not seen as “good enough” because of their gender? In every line of work, there is a woman behind the history, but many people do not know who they are. Here is a list of ten special women who changed the world that you may have never heard of.

Sheila Michaels (1939–2017): Michaels was “looking for a title for a woman who did not ‘belong’ to a man” when she discovered “Ms.,” which had been around since the early 1900s but had never caught on. She took to the radio in 1969 during the height of the second-wave feminist movement and brought the term, which is commonly used now, into the mainstream. Sheila Michaels influenced another feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, who adopted “Ms.” as the name for her groundbreaking magazine. 

Zelda Fitzgerald (1900-1948): Fitzgerald was known for her beauty and charm, and made a name for herself as a socialite, novelist, painter, as well as being considered the ‘first American flapper’, she was much more than merely the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. What many people do not know is that F. Scott, the author of “The Great Gatsby”, would steal excerpts from her diary, word for word, and include them in his work. Unfortunately, she never rose to fame quite like her husband, though she was equally talented.


Nellie Bly (1864-1922): Bly was a journalist during a period of American history when this now common profession was considered an unusual and difficult thing for a woman to do. She got a job at the Pittsburgh Dispatch as a columnist but grew dissatisfied writing only for women. She wanted to write for all readers, and she feigned mental illness long enough to be sent to an infamous insane asylum in New York City. While she was there, she wrote, “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” which was published in the New York World and made her one of the most famous journalists in America, exposing the horrific nature of the asylum. She is the originator of what we now call investigative journalism. 

Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951): Henrietta Lacks was a black woman born in the south and a descendant of a white plantation owner in Virginia. After having five children, Lacks was sent to Johns Hopkins Hospital, the only hospital in the area that treated African Americans, for abdominal pain. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer and during her treatment, two samples were taken without her consent. They were given to a cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins and the cells became known as the HeLa immortal cell line, which is still used today in modern cancer research. Her cells have led to major scientific discoveries regarding the growth of cancer cells. Lacks’ story has brought into question the ethics of patient privacy and she helped to shine light on the mistreatment of people of color in the healthcare system. 

Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002): Often transgender women are excluded from women’s history. Sylvia Rivera was a transgender trailblazer in history. A veteran of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, Rivera was a tireless advocate for those who have been marginalized as the “gay rights” movement became more popular. She fought hard against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York and was a strong voice for the rights of people of color, low-income members of the queer community, and trans people. Her legacy leaves a reminder than women’s rights go beyond the rights of cisgendered and straight white women. 

Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015): Boggs was an American author, social activist, philosopher, and feminist. She was well known for her contributions to Detroit’s Black Power Movement and worked alongside leaders including Malcom X in the 1960’s. Though many of her ideas centered around revolution, her personal philosophies were guided more by human experience and an individual’s own ability to transform their own world, rather than just revolting. In 1999, Boggs was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and fifteen years later in 2014 was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. 

Patsy Mink (1967-2002): In 1964, Patsy Mink became the first woman of color to get elected to the United States Congress. After facing years of discrimination in the field of law, Mink became a fearless advocate for the issues of gender, education and discrimination against immigrants. She co-wrote Title IX, a banner law that prohibits gender discrimination in educational institutions. She served in Congress between 1965 and 1977, and later on from 1990 until her death in 2002. 

Sylvia Earle (1935-present): Earle’s contributions to the studies of marine biology and environmentalism have changed history forever. Earle broke the women’s diving depth record in 1979 and went on to co-found two deep-sea exploration engineering companies. In 1990, she was appointed chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1998, Earle was named Time’s first Hero of the Planet. She has won numerous awards for her work protecting the environment, and has written more than 150 publications, including work for National Geographic. 

Kalpana Chawla (1962-2003): Chawla was the first woman of Indian descent to fly in space. The shuttle she was in orbited around Earth 252 times in a little over two weeks. Her second trip to space came in 2003 when she and six other astronauts completed more than 80 experiments over the course of 16 days. What she didn’t know was that it would be her last. She and the entire crew died when the ship disintegrated upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. In 2020, Northrop Grumman, an aerospace, defense, and security company, named a spacecraft after Chawla in her memory. Her legacy lives on to inspire young girls all over the world. 

Donyale Luna (1945-1979): Luna is recognized as “the first black supermodel,” and she was the first African American model to appear on the cover of British Vogue in March 1966. She helped influence the inclusion of African American and African Europeans on magazines, which were previously known for the majority white demographics. Her legacy lives on today in the modern media, in 2020, actress Zendaya appeared in a photoshoot inspired by Luna for the 50th anniversary of Essence magazine. 

Though March is Women’s History Month, these women should not remain a topic only this month. It is important to let women know they have the power to influence the world, and deserve to have a platform to speak out for the causes they believe in.