As part of International Women’s Day, we aim to celebrate women’s achievements of past and present. Women have challenged stereotypes throughout history and changed the world of today, sometimes, without even realising it.
1. Florence Nightingale
“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.”
– Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale is the first inspirational woman worthy of recognition. She was born into a wealthy family in 1820 who ensured she had a classical education, becoming fluent in German, French and Italian. However, Florence was active in nursing from a young age and believed it to be her calling. Much to her parents’ disapproval, she wanted to pursue nursing. She refused to marry suitors her parents picked out for her and went to study in Germany. After her studies, she returned to London where she was appointed as a general nurse. Her performance was outstanding and got promoted to superintendent within a year of starting at the hospital.
In 1854, Florence received a letter from the secretary of war regarding the Crimea war. They needed her to arrange a group of nurses to tend to the sick and injured. Along with 34 other nurses, she prepared herself for the horrendous conditions and rose to her calling. Nightingale quickly set to work and completely transformed the hospital. She asked the least infirm patients to help clean the hospital and scrub the floor, she tended to patients day and night, set up a bed sheet cleaning routine and developed a kitchen to nurious the patients back to health. She also instituted a classroom and a library for patients’ intellectual stimulation and entertainment.
In 1860, she funded the establishment of St. Thomas’ Hospital, and with it, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. Nightingale became a well known figure in the public eye. Young women aspired to be like her. Eager to follow her example, women from the wealthy upper classes started enrolling at nursing school. Thanks to Florence, nursing was no longer frowned upon by the upper classes; in fact, it came to be viewed as an honorable career.
2. Ada Lovelace
“That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal; as time will show.”
– Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace showed her talents for maths at an early age. At 17, she met Charles Babbage, an inventor. Charles became Ada’s mentor and teacher as she began studying advanced mathematics in London. Ada was fascinated with his ideas, he invented the difference engine which performed calculations. They went on to invent the analytical engine which performed more complex calculations.
Ada studied the machine extensively and worked hard to translate and add to the article written about it. Her interpretation ended up being three times longer than the original. In 1843, it was published in the British Science Journal.
In her article, Lovelace described how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. She also invented a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping that modern computer programs use today. In her time, it wasn’t considered acceptable or normal for women to work in STEM subjects, but her inquisitive mind and determination allows us to consider her to be the first computer programmer.
3. Malala Yousafzai
“Don’t be afraid—if you are afraid you can’t move forward.”
– Malala Yousafzai
Malala was born in 1997 in Pakistan. Her father ran a girls school in their town and wanted to give Malala every opportunity that a boy would. Malala liked school and excelled in her studies, this was until extremists took over her town and banned girls going to school.
In 2012 she spoke publicly about girls in the town and their right to education. This made her a target for the extremists, who tried to kill her on the way home from school. Luckily she survived and was treated in the UK, the news caught on around the world and her story went global.
After months of surgery, she was able to move back into her family home. The events of the previous two years didn’t stop her campaigning. She continues to campaign for girls educational rights across the world.
Alongside her father, she created the Malala fund, which is a charity dedicated to giving every girl the opportunity of education and to decide her own future. In 2014, she became the youngest Nobel laureate.
In 2018 she began studying politics and economics at Oxford University, whilst still campaigning for all girls to have 12 years of education minimum. She also travels to many countries to meet girls fighting poverty, wars, child marriage and gender discrimination. Her charity helps developing countries make education accessible to girls and holds leaders accountable. Her efforts are changing the developing world for the better, allowing all children a fair opportunity in education.
4. Greta Thunburg
“The moment we decide to fulfil something, we can do anything.”
– Greta Thunburg
Greta is the most recent woman to become an inspiration to young people (in particular women) everywhere. From the age of 8, Greta has been aware of climate change and how it is affecting the world. She refuses to travel via plane and has been vegan for most of her life. She does this to reduce her impact on the environment.
At the age of 15, prior to the Swedish elections, she sat outside the Swedish parliament building alone protesting for more to be done about climate change. Whilst she spent the first day outside Swedish parliament alone, she was joined each day by more and more people.
After the Swedish elections, she created Fridays for future, where she continued to campaign for more to be done to stop climate change. This gained media attention all around the world and thousands of other students did the same. Neighbouring countries Finland and Denmark saw huge protests regarding the issue. This movement soon spread worldwide with climate change protests happening in the Netherlands, the UK, US, France, Belgium and Canada.
The teenager received many invites to speak at various climate change conferences. She spoke passionately about the cause in the UK, US, Switzerland, Italy and many other countries. She also attended the UN climate event in New York, she famously travelled by emissions-free yacht.
Greta has met with many world leaders and activists, including David Attenborough. She continues to inspire young people around the world to act on climate change. As well as this, she continues to pressure world leaders to change before it’s too late. She is someone to be celebrated due to the work she has done raising awareness as a young woman.
There are many women across history to celebrate, but we hope for international women's day, we have highlighted a few women to aspire to. Your background, age or gender does not define the impact you can make. For more posts highlighting minorities, check out our blog post about black men and women who shaped education here.