Celebrating Women's History Month
March 12, 2018
Women. We are strong, empowering and determined; we have not been easily shaken by the mercurial social climate. We instead remain steadfast and resilient. Women. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, physicians, astronauts, scientists, healers, CEOs and more.
March is Women's History Month: a time to celebrate the women who have served as pioneers and trailblazers, shattered glass ceilings and continue to inform today's generation. From the civil rights movement to today's human and women's rights innovators and activists, women have overcome many odds while fostering life-changing improvements for all people.
Drexel's College of Medicine is historically recognized for its advocacy in women's rights. In 1850, two years after Hahnemann University was established, the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) became the world's first medical school for women, setting the stage for diversity and inclusivity in the medical community. The Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania was home to a diverse group of legendary women who served as activists of their time. Halle Tanne Dillon Johnson, MD, class of 1891, became the first African American physician in Alabama.
WMCP was also home to the nation's first and second Native Americans physicians, Susan La Flesche Picotte, MD, class of 1889, and Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill, MD, who earned her degree ten years later. After the tragic loss of her baby, Anandibai Joshee, MD, challenged the expectations of her culture, becoming the first Indian woman to earn a Western medical degree in 1886. Three years later, Keiko Okami, MD, became the second female physician in Japan. Following her graduation from WMCP, she headed the gynecology unit in a Tokyo hospital.
Women continue to transcend in the sciences, paving the way for a more equitable career trajectory for all individuals. Sally Ride, astronaut and astrophysicist, was the first American woman in space in 1983, when she was 32 years old. Antonia Novello, MD, former U.S. surgeon general, was the first woman and Latina to serve in this position, from 1990 to 1993. From young female inventors like Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, who dismantled a clock at the age of 7 and went on to invent one of the first compiler-related tools for computer programming, to Mary Anderson, inventor of the windshield wiper, who received a patent in 1903, women are at the forefront of revolutionary change and progress.
The civil rights movement sparked the leadership of many women. In addition to Rosa Parks, whose name has become nearly synonymous with leadership for equity and justice, there were many female heroes of this time who remain unrecognized. Southern Black women, including Ellen Baker, Jonnie Carr, Septima Poinsette Clark and Dorothy Cotton did not succumb to the “triple constraint” of gender, race and class. Rather they were at the head of protest and civil engagement. In fact, women are known for assuming roles of leadership during early phases of revolutionary protest, despite their vulnerability to bigotry.
Women have also made a great impact in politics. In 2017, almost 100 years after the passage of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, America witnessed the rise of the first female presidential nominee, shattering what many see as the ultimate glass ceiling. Despite her loss, Hillary Rodham Clinton won more primaries and gathered more delegates than any woman in U.S. history. Nancy Pelosi, the current minority leader of the United States House of Representatives, was the first and only woman speaker of the house to date, serving from 2007 to 2011. And in 2008, Michele Obama became the first African American first lady to grace the White House, establishing initiatives on health and wellness that continue to influence communities across the nation today.
Women have led human rights efforts and advocacy on a global scale. Malala Yousafzai survived a gunshot wound from a Taliban gunman as punishment for her advocacy for female education, and later became the world's youngest Nobel Prize recipient. Wangari Maathai was an environmental activist who was jailed and beaten for her leadership in Kenya's democracy, and became the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Native American activist and environmentalist Winona LaDuke, a member of the Anishinaabe nation, led efforts to recover lands taken from Native American communities.
While women are still underrepresented in the tech sector, particularly in leadership roles, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.org is recognized as a distinguished technology executive and influential philanthropic leader, committed to equality among men and women.
Women have contributed to the industrial workforce since World War II. Rosie the Riveter symbolized the swelling number of female factory workers recruited to replace the men who left jobs to fight in the war. Hedy Lamarr was a pioneer in wireless communication and co-inventor of a patent simply known as the “Secret Communications System,” a technology that appeared on U.S. Navy ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Lamarr's innovation ultimately contributed to the creation of GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth systems.
Women can do anything. And our voices affirm the crucial, essential role of equity, justice, and civil and human rights. From the # MeToo campaign originally created in 2006 by African American activist Tarana Burke to the Women's March that overwhelmed many major cities in our nation and worldwide, let's celebrate the women who have blazed a path to our present and our future.
Lidyvez Sawyer, MPH
Learn about events celebrating Women's History Month in Philadelphia.
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