7 Trailblazing Women Who Changed the World
We're so excited for January 6 and the release of Hidden Figures, the astonishing true story of how African American female mathematicians helped usher in some of NASA’s greatest achievements. The world needs to know about Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), the brilliant “female computer” who determined the launch and landing coordinates for John Glenn’s 1962 orbit around the earth. So let’s keep the momentum going: What about all the other impressive women who have busted up boys' clubs? To get you thinking, here are a few more heroic ladies who ought to be in pictures.
Photo: Frank Espich/The Indianapolis Star/Ap Photo
May we suggest Sarah Breedlove, a.k.a. the legendary beauty innovator Madam C.J. Walker. This Louisiana-born daughter of former slaves worked hard all her life, including as a laundress. In 1906, she created a haircare line tailored to black women and, harnessing her mighty marketing skills, began peddling her goods door to door. At her death in 1919, Walker’s personal worth was about $700,000 (that would be $9.76 million today), making her the wealthiest black woman in America at the time. The happy ending: The impact of her beauty products is still turning heads today.
Photo: SSPL/Getty Images
May we suggest Ada Lovelace, the numbers-loving daughter of poet Lord Byron who’s now considered the world’s first programmer. She was translating an 1842 paper on mathematician Charles Babbage’s computer prototype when she realized that it could one day be programmed to perform problem-solving calculations. Victorian math minds pooh-poohed her, but without algorithms, you couldn’t play Candy Crush.
May we suggest Margaret Bourke-White, a groundbreaking photojournalist who became the first female war correspondent, covering the air force in North Africa, the army in Italy, diplomats in the USSR, and migrant farmers in the Dust Bowl. Just picture Maggie the Indestructible doing, well, all the cool stuff she did in real life—risk her marriage to pursue her aperture ambitions! survive a torpedo attack! take a few snaps while perched atop one of the Chrysler Building’s glowering eagles!—in 3-D.
Photo: Oscar Graubner/The Life Images Collection/Getty images
Photo: Tass Via Getty Images
May we suggest the Night Witches, the all-female Soviet WWII regiment that flew about 30,000 missions against the German military, dropping bombs from flimsy plywood-and-canvas crop dusters. Under the cover of darkness—and without parachutes, radios, or guns—they’d idle their engines near their target and glide in with a terrifying whoosh that made enemy soldiers think of broomsticks. By the time the credits roll, 30 Night Witches will have given their lives for their country, and 23—we’re picturing Slavic ringers Kirsten Dunst and Scarlett Johansson—will be named Heroes of the Soviet Union.
Photo: Calmontney/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
May we suggest LAPD officer Pat Johnson. In 1971, a 9-month-old girl was found abandoned in a Los Angeles hotel room. (She was discovered after guests told the manager she’d been crying for hours.) Policewoman Johnson (imagine a 1970s-ified Jennifer Lawrence) fed the baby milk, Jell-O, and cottage cheese and kept her swaddled in a desk drawer until the infant was taken to a foster home later that day. In the big-screen adaptation, Johnson abandons her desk duties to become a baby whisperer, visiting seedy and swanky hotels alike in search of neglected tots who depend on just her kind of savior.
Photo: Paul J. Connell/The Boston Globe Via Getty Images
May we suggest Kathrine Switzer, the first female runner to officially enter the once all-male Boston Marathon. In 1967, after training with the Syracuse University men’s cross-country team and besting officials (she applied for a bib as K.V. Switzer), she was almost physically shoved off the course by blustering race codirector Jock Semple (we’re thinking Bryan Cranston), who’d be damned if he’d let a woman taint his testosterific event. Cut to Switzer’s proud finish—where (spoiler) her uterus doesn’t fall out.