It as taken a whole 55 years and an exemplary movie Hidden Figures for the world to finally recognise the contributions made by Black African American women in launching John Glen and America’s first satellite into space. In today’s age when NASA’s directors come from all variety of backgrounds, it is easy to forget the pioneers who paved the way for this transformation, into a more accepting society. But it would be unforgivable to overlook the contributions made by some very courageous women who challenged and persevered against discrimination, every step of the way. One of such pioneers was Dorothy Vaughan, a respected mathematician who became NASA’s first African-American manager serving as the head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) segregated West Area Computing Unit from 1949 until 1958. Continue reading Dorothy Vaughan
With thanks to The Open University for allowing us to repost this piece. Originally published on their website here.
As a single woman in the early 20th century making ends meet was no easy feat, so it’s remarkable that Madam CJ Walker became the first female self-made millionaire in America. Continue reading Madam CJ Walker
Elizabeth Freeman, first known as Mum Bett or Mumbet, was born around 1742 to African parents who were enslaved by Pieter Hogeboom in Claverack, New York. Hogeboom’s daughter Hannah married Col. John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts, and Bett, most likely inherited by Hannah in 1758, moved to their household.
The story of her leaving the Ashley household varies. They state that Hannah, in an angry fit, tried to hit Bett’s younger sister Lizzie with a heated kitchen shovel. Bett, stood in the way and was hit instead, causing a deep wound. Bett left, and refused to come back. When Col. Ashley asked the law to bring back his “property,” Bett contacted lawyer Theodore Sedgwick. Stories recount that when Sedgwick inquired as to how she got the idea that she deserved to be free, she said “By keepin’ still and mindin’ things.” Continue reading Mum Bett and the Freedom Suit (Elizabeth Freeman)
A relative mentioned in passing that we may be related to the internationally famous, classically trained Trinidadian pianist Winifred Atwell – I had no idea of this. A further call to my relative revealed she had kept a newspaper cutting from 1954 and I was astonished to learn that Winifred’s hands were insured for £40,000 in the 1950s! Winifred was an international celebrity, known in households at home with Stephen Bourne citing her as a’folk hero for the British working classes.’ (Bourne 2001). My relative also told me that Elton John named one of his touring piano’s after Winifred and looking further I see that Elton names Winifred as one of his most early influences. Continue reading Winifred Atwell
The Harlem Renaissance was the name given to the artistic, literary and intellectual movement within a tumultuous period of racial change in post-war United States. Also named ‘The New Negro Movement’, this cultural explosion drew black writers, photographers, artists, poets and scholars together to forge a new black cultural identity throughout the 1920s and 30s. Although critic and lecturer, Alan Locke (1926), described the transformation from “social disillusionment to race pride”, the women of the Harlem Renaissance had to face double prejudice of both race and sex.
Henrietta’s tumour cells, most commonly known as HeLa cells in science are responsible for some of the most significant medical discoveries of all time. From chemotherapy and the polio vaccine to cloning and IVF, her immortal cells have changed and saved countless lives. But it is truly unfortunate such profound scientific breakthroughs came at the cost of an inspirational women, mother and a loving wife. Continue reading Henrietta Lacks- The true shero behind modern medicine
Maggie Lena Walker (1867-1934) spent her life dedicated to improving the status of African-Americans and women, particularly through economic empowerment. She was the first woman in America to found and serve as president of a bank. She was also a leader in her community, a great orator, a successful businesswoman and a philanthropist. This is a just a brief summation of Walker’s accomplishments – how she became all of these things, considering where she started in life, is a testament to her drive and determination and an accomplishment in itself. Continue reading Maggie Lena Walker