Katherine Sui Fun Cheung

Katherine Cheung was born in Canton, China in 1904. When she was 17 she moved with her father to California to study music at the Los Angeles Conservatory. After graduating, she continued her studies at Cal Poly Pomona and the University of Southern California.

Even while in school, she had a wild streak that sometimes broke out of the demure, ladylike persona that society expected. She convinced her father to teach her to drive, a mark of independence unusual among women at the time. It was during one of these lessons with her father in a parking lot near the airport, that she became interested in an even more unusual skill—flying.

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Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer

Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer was an amazing woman who, although severely disabled, became an inspiring disabled rights activist & published a moving book about her life.

Ruth was born in 1950 in Massachusetts. She was a healthy baby until, at just five weeks old, she became very ill. She had a temperature, was dehydrated & started to have convulsions. Her parents rushed her to the hospital where the doctors did all they could to help her. Soon she was home again and everything seemed fine. In fact for the first year of her life it looked like Ruth had recovered completely. However, just after her first birthday her parents realised that she was not developing the way other children her age were. After tests at the hospital Ruth was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which they now knew was a result of the illness she had had as a baby (encephalitis) which had affected her brain.

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Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti – ‘Vagina’s Head Seeking Vengeance’

One of the most important women in African politics in the first half of the twentieth century was Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, who was from the Yoruba people who had traditional structures which allowed women to be involved in decision-making and administration.

Funmilayo was born in 1900 to parents who were Christian, English-speaking trading agents for British merchants.  Her parents believed, unusually for the time, that girls should be educated as well as boys so Funmilayo went to school where she showed academic promise.  With the help of family and friends, at the age of nineteen she was sent to England to continue her education.  She boarded with a British family and stayed for three years, returning to Nigeria in 1923 when she became a teacher in her home region of Abeokuta.

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Barbara McClintock

Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983, for her discovery of transposable elements in genetic material. She is the only woman to receive an unshared prize in that category.

They called them “jumping genes.” McClintock, a plant geneticist, discovered that genes could slice themselves out of one place and move to another, thus changing how genes were expressed. Now we know that our predispositions to things ranging from illness to weight gain or loss all depend on how our genetic material decides to express itself. But in 1950, someone said that McClintock’s discovery was like being told that your kitchen could jump into your attic.

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