As I’m dealing with some extremely difficult emotional times right now, I want to talk a little about the women that have inspired me along my journey in life. In honor of International Women’s Day, I give to you 4 of the most influential public women in my life. Women that I see as heroes of their prospective times, who have overcome and persevered within their own lives and have gone on to make a huge impact on the world as we know it…
In no particular order:
- Helen Keller who over came attitude and learned how to be both blind and deaf. She went on to get a degree with a bachelor in arts of all things. She went on to become the co-founder of the ACLU, fought for women’s suffrage and brought attention to the treatment of people with disabilities.
During her lifetime, she received many honors in recognition of her accomplishments, including the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal in 1936, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, and election to the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1965. She also received honorary doctoral degrees from Temple University and Harvard University and from the universities of Glasgow, Scotland; Berlin, Germany; Delhi, India; and Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Additionally, she was named an Honorary Fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland.
- Susan B. Anthony was a single women that never married, raised in a Quaker home. Ignoring opposition and abuse, Anthony traveled, lectured, and canvassed across the nation for the vote. She also campaigned for the abolition of slavery, the right for women to own their own property and retain their earnings, and she advocated for women’s labor organizations.
In recognition of her dedication and hard work, the U.S. Treasury Department put Anthony’s portrait on one dollar coins in 1979, making her the first woman to be so honored.
- Temple Grandin is widely celebrated as one of the first individuals on the autism spectrum to publicly share insights from her personal experience of autism. She is also the inventor of the “hug box”, a device to calm those on the autism spectrum.
Later in her life, she discovered and developed humane cattle handling systems which have become part of the industry norm.
Grandin has written many articles on autism and cattle management, is well respected in both arenas and has received recognition on many levels from books, publications, tv interviews and even a movie made about her life.
In 2010, Grandin was named in the Time 100 list of the one hundred most influential people in the world in the “Heroes” category. In 2011, she received a Double Helix Medal. She has received honorary degrees from many universities including Carnegie Mellon University in the United States (2012), McGill University in Canada (1999), and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (2009), Emory University (2016). In 2015, she was named an Honorary Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication. Meritorious Achievement Award OIE, World Organization, Paris France, 2015. In 2016, Grandin was inducted into American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In a TED talk given in 2010, Grandin stated, “The world needs all types of minds.”
- Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, also know as the First Lady and wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Her life wasn’t one of ease and simplicity. Her father was a depressed alcoholic. Her mother depressed over his alcoholism, raising her children alone. By the age of six, Eleanor felt responsible for her mother’s happiness as her mother put her down about her looks, calling her nicknames like “Granny”, “Old Fashioned”, and “Plain”. She even wrote in her book This is My Story that she was a solemn child without beauty, feeling like an old woman entirely lacking in spontaneous joy and mirth of youth. Her parents died 19 months apart, leaving her orphaned by the age of 10.
After marrying, having children and her then husband becoming a state senator, FDR was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Navy in 1913. During World War I, Eleanor realized her valuable service to projects of interest with her dedication to the Navy Relief and the Red Cross. She visited wounded warriors at St. Elizabeth’s hospital and was appalled by the quality of treatment. She pushed then Secretary of Interior Franklin Lane to intervene and when he didn’t, she pushed harder to get him to appoint a commission to investigate the institution.
Eleanor was so much more than these few simplified words, she was known at the time of the election as plain, ordinary Eleanor that wore $10 dresses, drove her own car and worked within the press. She held many positions before she became first lady as well. She held positions with the Democratic National Committee, the Todhunter School, the League of Women Voters, the Non-partisan Legislative Committee and the Women’s Trade Union League. Once her husband was in office, she held weekly meetings with the ladies of the press, hoping to express the mechanics of national politics to the American women. She went on to write a monthly column for Woman’s Home Companion, donating the $1,000 per month payment to charity. As part of her format, it was requested that submissions of conversational topics were made and by January 1934 an impressive 300,000 letters were received.
She was never content being the lady of the house. Instead she showed the world that the first lady was an important part of American politics. She spoke out for human rights, children’s causes and women’s issues, working on behalf of the League of Women Voters. She also focused on helping the country’s poor, stood against racial discrimination and, during World War II, traveled abroad to visit U.S. troops. After her time in the White House, she was named a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly (serving from 1945 to 1953) by President Harry Truman. She was a chair to the UN’s Human Right Commission and helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she considered her greatest accomplishment. She was reappointed to the position again by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, and also to the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps and to a chair on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.
This context is just the tip of the iceberg to all the things that Eleanor accomplished in her life. She overcame a horrific childhood, became passionate about many topics such as racial justice, world peace and women’s rights to just name a few. She dedicated her entire adult life to these causes, until her death in 1962. She was a legendary women, not because of fashion trends or even because she was a first lady. She was legendary because she used her life to dedicate her works to do good. In a quote from her book Tomorrow is Now, she wrote, “Staying aloof is not a solution but a cowardly evasion.” She may not have ever won awards or been historically taught in public schools about her contributions to the world, but to me she is a model example of pushing to pursue what you think is right against all odds. To learn more about her and her life, please look up the Eleanor Roosevelt Project.