In 2015, music student Jessy McCabe initiated a campaign for female composers to be featured in the Edexcel Music A Level syllabus. The following December, the examination board announced that 12 works by female composers were to be introduced, including Kate Bush.
It’s these little victories which simultaneously ignite joy and disappointment. On the one hand, it’s a pleasure to see a young woman standing up for the representation of her gender. On the other hand, it’s disappointing to see that she still has to do so in 2015.
The Roman goddess Venus embodied fertility, beauty and sex. Here are a few women who made it into the history books by proving that there is so much more to us than these facets.
Marie Skłodowska Curie
One cannot omit a mention of Curie’s husband, Pierre, when discussing their research on radioactivity. However, substantial credit is given to Mrs Curie for discovering the foundation of their study. Aside from the ground-breaking research she did, Curie’s story must be given due acknowledgement. Her past is riddled with gender obstacles. In her younger years, she had not been allowed to enter any established higher institution in Poland because she was a woman. Yet, she was determined enough to risk pursuing her studies at the underground Flying University. Once she secured a place at the University of Paris, she juggled studying and tutoring in between malnourishment and cold winters, until she finally received her Degree in Physics. A few years later, she got another slap in the face when Kraków University denied her a work placement on account of her sex. This issue would prop up again many years down the line after the publication of her discovery, where the Royal Institution of London would refuse to let her speak publicly about her work. Instead, Pierre Curie alone was expected to present their findings.
She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was the only person and the only woman to have ever been awarded two of these in two different scientific categories, and was also the first female professor at the University of Paris.
Here’s someone who fought for professionalism, both for the dignity of the worker and for the customer. In this case, Nightingale had pushed for better hygiene and more supplies for the wounded soldiers of the Crimean War, and in turn acquired safer and better working conditions for the nurses stationed in the Ottoman Empire. She had gone against the status quo of Victorian society by choosing a career over the expected role of wife and mother. She had fought for improving food sources for India under the British Empire, and had also advocated for the abolition of unjust prostitution laws and campaigned for women to be an equal presence in the work place. By encouraging sanitation laws in poorer communities, she brought to light the value of the working classes in a system that undermined it, and in 1904, she was the first woman to be awarded an Order of Merit.
Barbara is possibly one of the most underrated Maltese political figures. She was the first female member of Maltese Parliament, the first woman to become a Minister and the first female President of the Republic. It’s also been assumed that she was the first woman in Maltese history to receive the same salary as a man.
She would travel to Parliament by bus and as the Minister of Education, she introduced free tuition, invested in the distribution of free textbooks and, monumentally, gave girls the right to study the sciences and similar subjects. She had been inspired to enter politics when in 1947, the Malta Labour Party alongside the Women of Malta Association claimed the right for women to vote, which had been very much opposed by the Church. Later on in her career, she abolished university fees and introduced equal pay for both men and women, followed by paid maternity leave.
Pankhurst is perhaps the arche of feminism. Some may not agree with the initial tactics that she had employed, but one cannot deny that they had indeed made an impact. Despite this however, she left a legacy to her daughters who opted for a more diplomatic and moderate approach to fight their cause.
Pankhurst had been refused membership with the Independent Labour Party, which fuelled her sense of activism even more. After establishing the Women’s Social and Political Union, she and her comrades partook in acts of riot to gain their right to vote. Counter-productive as this may have been, Pankhurst was still willing to do time in jail and jeopardise her safety for the electoral representation of women. She did not believe that a woman’s husband could vote on her behalf, and she strongly felt that unmarried women – any woman of any status, in fact – should have the right to be a part of a country’s political decision-making.
Again, even though the demonstrations were violent, by doing so, she defied the notion that women were the weaker sex. The demonstrations were enough to cause an effect on society, proving that women are significant and therefore consequential, as would be their vote.
“We’re in every home, we’re half the human race, you can’t stop us.” – Maud Watts, Suffragette.
Who else do you think has affected history in such a way? Let us know in the comment section below.