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Five Inspiring Women You (And Your Children) Should Know

History is full of amazing women to admire, although it may not be easy to find their stories. After all, society has not always valued women’s voices. Women have often been barred from public life. Even if they managed to overcome all obstacles in order to make a difference, their contributions have often been erased or forgotten.

It’s time to bring their voices to the light.

We wrote She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World to celebrate female trailblazers. It features the inspiring stories of fourteen women, along with audio clips built right into the book, so that you can hear their voices for yourself. But as we researched the book, we came across so many more women whose stories we wanted to tell! Sometimes we couldn’t find audio clips, or the clips weren’t in English, or we couldn’t get permission, or the women simply lived before recording technology was available.

Here are five brave women we couldn’t include in our book. Their stories show how to face obstacles, defeat, and prejudice, but still manage to leave a mark on history. You and your children may not have heard of them—but you definitely should!

Daisy Bates (1914–1999)

Born in Huttig, Arkansas, United States of America

Daisy Bates knew the hardship of growing up African American in the segregated South. When she was young, three white men murdered her mother. Friends raised Daisy after her father abandoned her. She married a journalist in the early 1940s. Together, they published an African American newspaper that championed the Civil Right Movement. In 1952, Daisy became president of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The U.S. Supreme Court declared school segregation illegal in 1954, but Arkansas schools still would not allow African American students to register at white schools.

In 1957, Daisy helped nine African American students to enroll at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The group was called the Little Rock Nine. Angry white mobs and even the Arkansas National Guard blocked them from entering. Daisy and her husband offered their home as the headquarters of the integration battle and documented the struggle in their newspaper. Eventually, President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened, sending federal troops to protect the Little Rock Nine. On September 25, 1957, they finally entered the school. The Bates home is now a National Historic Landmark. Despite threats to her life and property, Daisy continued to speak out. She wrote about her experiences in The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which later won the American Book Award.

Eulalia Guzmán (1890–1985)

Born in San Pedro Piedra Gorda, Mexico

Eulalia Guzmán knew that, in order to make a difference, she had to carve her own path. In 1906, at age sixteen, she co-founded a society with three female friends to fight for women’s right to vote. A few years later, she co-founded another organization dedicated to giving women the skills to improve their economic opportunities. In a time when very few women had access to higher education, she got her teaching degree, then went on to earn a master’s degree in philosophy and a bachelor’s degree in archeology. She became one of the first women to participate in archeological excavations in Mexico, uncovering and documenting the history of various sites, including her hometown of San Pedro Piedra Gorda.

Eulalia was also appointed Director of Archeology at Mexico’s National Museum and studied Mexican artifacts and ancient documents all over Europe. She created the Historical Archive of the National Library of Anthropology and History. In 1946, American animation pioneer Walt Disney invited Eulalia to collaborate on a literacy project for Latin America. Her career was marred by controversy in 1949 when she excavated the supposed remains of Cuauhtémoc, a pre-Colombian indigenous hero. Official committees later studied the bones and declared them fake. Eulalia fought against the decision, defending the authenticity of her find for the rest of her life. Her reputation in academia never recovered, but indigenous populations celebrate her work to this day, honoring her with festivals and renaming a town square in her honor.

Kitty O’Neil (1946–2018)

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, United States of America

Kitty O’Neil was born to a Cherokee mother and an Irish-American father. She became deaf as a baby. As a teenager, she was a champion swimmer and even trained for the Olympics. When injury and illness tanked her swimming career, she didn’t let that stop her. Kitty craved excitement, so she took up racing and stunt work. She raced motorcycles and cars. She set speed records in boats and on water skies.

In 1976, Kitty set the land speed record for women with an average speed of 512.7 miles per hour in a three-wheeled rocket car called the Motivator. (She held that record until 2019.) Despite a battle with cancer, she became an in-demand stunt performer on movies like Smokey and the Bandit II, Airport ’77, and The Blues Brothers, and on TV shows like Baretta and The Bionic Woman. She even had her own action figure. On the TV show Wonder Woman, she set a record by falling 127 feet from the top of a building—then broke her own record shortly afterward when she fell 180 feet out of a helicopter. When people told her she couldn’t do something because she was deaf, she just turned around and proved them wrong. “Deaf people can do anything,” Kitty said. “Never give up.”

Elza Soares (1930–2022)

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Elza Soares was born and raised in a Brazilian favela slum. As a Black girl living in extreme poverty, she faced a barrage of prejudice and hardship, but found solace in her love of singing. When she was twelve, her father forced her to get married. She became a mother as a teenager and struggled to feed her family. After two of her children died, she went on a radio talent show in hopes of winning money to save her remaining sick son. She was wearing pigtails and a dress that hung off of her underfed frame. The host made fun of her appearance, asking what planet she came from. Elza replied without missing a beat: “The same planet as you—Planet Hunger.” She went on to sing beautifully, and the host, impressed, declared that a star had just been born.

Her career didn’t immediately take off. A record company refused to offer her a contract because she was Black, and she spent years singing in nightclubs before she got her first record deal. During the 1960s and ’70s, she became a Brazilian national icon, mixing samba and jazz. Over the decades, she explored many other styles, pushing the boundaries of Brazilian music. In 1999, she was voted “Voice of the Millennium” by BBC London. She appeared in films and television, recorded thirty-six albums, and sang at the 2016 Rio Olympics opening ceremony. Even as a star, Elza continued to encounter public judgment and personal tragedy, but she never stopped fighting. Late in her career, she collaborated with young musicians and created acclaimed experimental music, with lyrics that commented on racism, LGBTQ+ issues, and class inequality. She died in 2022, at age 91, still a prolific artist. In a statement, her family declared that “As Elza Soares wanted, she sung until the end.

Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu (1912–1997)

Born in Liuhe, Jiangsu province, China

Chien-Shiung Wu grew up in a small Chinese fishing town. Education was important to her family, and she went to school just like her two brothers. This was unusual at the time, as many people did not think girls should be educated. Her father disagreed. He founded the school that she attended. Chien-Shiung went on to earn a degree in physics, graduating at the top of her class. Her mentor, female physicist Dr. Jing-Wei Gu, encouraged her to go to the United States to continue her education. Chien-Shiung received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, then went on to teach at Smith College and Princeton University, where she was the first woman to teach physics.

In 1944, Dr. Wu took a job at Columbia University and started working on the top-secret Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb. Her work focused on improving detection of radiation and the enrichment of uranium in large quantities. She went on to make many contributions to the field of physics. Though her best-known experiment was actually named after her, two male physicists received the Nobel Prize awarded for it, and her work was ignored. She did not receive pay equal to her male colleagues until 1975. Dr. Wu did receive many other honors, though, including eight honorary degrees and the National Medal of Science. She was the first female president of the American Physical Society. Her work blazed a trail for women in science.

Kathy MacMillan (she/her) is a writer, nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, and signing storyteller. Her other recent books include The Runaway Shirt and Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents, both from Familius Press. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.

Manuela Bernardi (she/her) is an author and screenwriter based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she was born and raised. She has collaborated on award-winning feature films and has written on shows for TV Globo, TBS, the History Channel, and Amazon Prime Video.


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