Education for girls and women was originally provided within the family, by local dame schools: home instruction for small groups of children usually led by a woman in her home. Only a small percentage of girls attended town schools or academies. Educational institutions beyond the dame schools and single gender town schools were private, segregated by sex, and exclusive to wealthy families and, arguably, still more limited by the focus on providing ladylike accomplishments rather than academic training. In 1792, Sarah Pierce founded one of the first American institute of higher education for women, known as Litchfield Female Academy. Pierce was considered revolutionary because she believed girls should be taught the same curriculum as boys.
Prior to Coco Chanel's foray into fashion, women's clothes were much more restrictive and uncomfortable. Chanel's simple and casual designs changed that. Although during World War I women often had to wear trousers when working in traditionally male jobs, Chanel played a huge part in accelerating their popularity as a fashion item. Chanel was also the first designer to use jersey. Simple, practical and comfortable, the fabric was the complete opposite of what women’s clothing had previously been: flashy, excessive and based around an uncomfortable corset. Beyond transforming the culture of clothing for women forever, she was a savvy business woman who established a fashion house that still dominates the world of fashion today.
Fifty-six of the 146 nations (38%) studied by the World Economic Forum in 2014 and 2016 have had a female head of government or state for at least one year in the past half-century. While the number of current female leaders – excluding monarchs and figurehead leaders – has more than doubled since 2000, these women still represent fewer than 10% of 193 UN member states. The United States has never had a female head of state. In 2007 Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House of Representatives. Since the Speaker of the House is second in the presidential line of succession, this made Pelosi the highest-ranking woman ever in the U.S. government. She served as speaker until 2010 when her party lost the majority in the House. In 2018 her party returned to the majority and she was once again elected Speaker of the House. As of January 2019, there are 102 women in the House of Representatives, making women 23.4% of the total of Representatives. Women have been elected to the House of Representatives from 46 of the 50 states.
“There are uses to adversity, and they don't reveal themselves until tested,” says Sonia Sotomayor, “whether it's serious illness, financial hardship, or the simple constraint of parents who speak limited English, difficulty can tap unexpected strengths.” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is herself testament to these words. Raised in a single parent household in the Bronx, Sotomayor went on to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton, go to Yale Law School, and from there become, first a U.S. District Court Judge, and then a Supreme Court Justice. Indeed, Sotomayor became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history. During her time in the Supreme Court, Sotomayor has worked tirelessly to be a voice for women and ethnic minorities in criminal justice reform.
The Second Wave feminist icon Gloria Steinem had a strong stance on marriage—as in, she would never—but everything changed in 2000, when at the age of 65, she married animal-rights activist David Bale. When pressed about changing her mind on marriage AKA what she used to term as "the model of slavery," she said: "I didn't change. Marriage changed. We spent 30 years in the United States changing the marriage laws. If I had married when I was supposed to get married, I would have lost my name, my legal residence, my credit rating, many of my civil rights. That's not true anymore. It's possible to make an equal marriage."
In 1942 women served in the armed forces during WWII. The U.S. Army established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and recruited 150,000 women in roles such as radio operators, mechanics and laboratory technicians during WWII. In 1978, the WAC was disestablished by an act of Congress, as a means to assimilate women more closely into the structure of the army.
Many people tend to think that we owe computer technology solely to men, but many women changed technology for the better. One example is Margaret Hamilton's code that landed American astronauts on the moon 1969. In the 1960s, Margaret lead the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. She also coined the phrase, "software engineering." Most impressively, if it weren't for Hamilton's leadership and her coding, it's highly doubtful that the Apollo mission would have been successful. For these reasons and probably more, President Obama awarded Margaret Hamilton the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2016.
Charting new waters for women in entertainment and comedy, Lucille Ball was the first woman to run a major Hollywood studio. Before her success on I Love Lucy, Ball founded Desilu Productions in 1950 along with her husband Desi Arnaz. In a seventeen-year run, the studio produced iconic series including Star Trek, Mission: Impossible and The Untouchables before it became Paramount Television in 1967.
Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb was the first woman to pass qualifying exams for astronaut training in 1959. Despite her outstanding scores, she wasn’t allowed to go to space because of her gender. Sally Ride joined NASA in 1978 after answering a newspaper ad seeking applicants for the space program. Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983. Ride was the third woman in space overall, after USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. On April 8, 1993, Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman in the world to go into space. Ochoa was aboard the Discovery shuttle for a total of nine days while conducting important research into the Earth’s ozone layer. Ochoa went on to log 1,000 hours in space in total. To date 41 women in the U.S. have flown into orbit.
Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu (she-in sh-ung woo), often referred to as the “First Lady of Physics” and the “Chinese Marie Curie,” was a renowned physicist who made important contributions to the Manhattan Project and development of the atomic bomb and performed groundbreaking experiments in the field of physics that disproved the Law of Conservation of Parity. After the war, Dr. Wu continued conducting research at Columbia University, focusing on beta decay. In 1956 two of Dr. Wu’s male colleagues asked for her help in designing experiments to test their theory that the Law of Conservation of Parity did not hold true during beta decay. Dr. Wu’s experiments proved Lee and Yang’s theory and helped them earn the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics; however, she was not acknowledged or credited for her contributions simply because she was a woman. Throughout her career Dr. Wu struggled for gender equality, correcting people who called her by her husband’s name, and fighting for equal pay. She became the first woman to serve as president of the American Physical Society and won several awards and honors throughout her lifetime including the National Medal of Science and the Comstock Prize.
In a time before women could vote, Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low dreamed of an organization that would help young women develop courage, confidence and character. To meet this goal, she founded the Girl Scouts in America in 1912. Today the organization has around 3.7 million members. On February 1, 2019, the Boy Scouts of America officially renamed their flagship program, Boy Scouting, to Scouts BSA to reflect their change of policy to allow girls to join (in sex-segregated troops).
Doing back-breaking work under the unforgiving sun, sleeping in rough shacks with dozens of men to a room, all for below-poverty-level wages; farm workers in the early Twentieth Century, most of whom were immigrants from Central America, had a hard, painful, unjust life. That is, until Dolores Huerta and others like her, came along. In 1965, Huerta created the United Farm Workers, an organization that worked tirelessly to improve the working conditions for farm workers. By leading boycotts, picketing, protesting and lobbying, Huerta was instrumental in bringing about legislation that protects some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The 39-time Grand Slam title champion Billie Jean King is one of the greatest female tennis players to have ever lived. But the tennis match she is best known for was the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” when she defeated champion player Bobby Riggs who had vowed that a top female player would not be able to beat him. Watched by an estimated 50 million people in 37 countries, King beat Riggs in three straight sets. The match brought women’s tennis into the limelight. Responsible for founding the Women’s Tennis Association, King continues to champion for women’s rights in sports and has been an avid supporter of equal pay for women in tennis. In 2007, Wimbledon became the last of the four major tennis tournaments to award equal prize money, with the US Open rolling out equal pay in 1973, the Australian Open in 2001 and the French Open in 2006.
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