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The Not-So-Famous Five

Most often throughout history and even today, we tend to hear more about the successes of male inventors, scientists, and artists. We really don’t have to dig deep to find equally talented women from a variety of backgrounds who have contributed immensely to a wide range of fields, professions and causes. Today let’s celebrate a few of these women by recognizing their amazing achievements!

1. Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919)

Sarah Breedlove, more commonly known as Madam C. J. Walker was an African American woman born in Louisiana. She lost both parents at the early age of six, and was married and widowed by twenty. At that time, with a two-year old child to care for, she went to work as a laundress in St Louis.

In 1905 she began to lose her hair. Unable to find suitable treatment for her condition, Walker developed her own hair products and method, which became known as the famous “Walker System.” Walker targeted African American women, promoting merchandise specifically tailored to their needs and health, unlike the popular products at that time. Soon enough, the humble woman from Louisiana became the first female African American millionaire.

During her journey to success Walker encouraged and mentored other female African American entrepreneurs to achieve financial independence. She was also responsible for establishing one of the first national conferences for female entrepreneurs to engage in discussions on business and commerce. Walker created opportunities for many African American women who came after her to pursue their goals regardless of other’s disparagement.

2. Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920-1958)

Rosalind Franklin was born in England and from a young age held a passion for science. Despite her family’s wishes, Franklin decided to attend Newnham College in Cambridge to pursue studies in the Natural Sciences, and after graduating, she went on to earn her PhD in 1945.

For most science students today, the names of Crick and Watson—the men credited for formulating the model of the DNA molecule—are nearly as common as Darwin. Many are unaware of Franklin’s crucial role in the development of this model. Her detailed analysis proved important for describing the stability of the DNA molecule. Watson and Crick failed to credit any of Franklin’s contributions to their work.One of her most important contributions was Photograph 51, an X-ray diffraction image that established DNA as having a double-helical structure. Franklin’s pure passion for science helped build the foundation for much of the technology and research in modern genetics.

3. Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores (1971-2016)

Examples of successful environmental activism are very scarce today. The late Honduran

environmental activist, indigenous leader, and co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Berta Flores, is the definition of success in this realm. Flores grew up in Honduras during a period of intense violence and turmoil in Central America. Despite the chaos that surrounded her, she was raised in a household where kindness, humanitarianism and activism were the norm, as her mother took in refugees from the neighboring El Salvador.

In 1993, while attending university to obtain her teaching qualifications, Flores formed COPINH to support, and protect Honduran indigenous people’s rights. Her greatest feat involved a year-long organized protest to prevent two of the world’s largest companies from building a dam that would compromise Indigenous people’s access to water, food, and medical materials. She continued the fight even after three of her colleagues were killed for protesting against the construction, and was able to halt the project. Flores’ passion for human rights was not just limited to her own community. She understood that countless minority groups faced struggles—though different in nature, had similar effects on their lives—and worked in support of a diverse group of people.

4. Jin Xing (1967-present)

It takes courage for anyone to openly be themselves, but for Chinese dancer, actress, and businesswoman Jin Xing, this has posed a greater challenge than for most people. Xing was the first person in China to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Though identifying as transgender is not considered illegal in China, there still exists an unfortunately considerable social stigma around LGBTQ+ identifying individuals.

However, this did not prevent Jin Xing from continuing to pursue her ambitions. As a child Xing’s extraordinary talent in dance earned her a spot in the acclaimed dance troupe in the People’s Army. She excelled as a dancer while also proving to be a skillful soldier in the army. In 1987, Xing moved to New York to study modern dance. Following her studies, in 1991, she traveled to Europe to perform and teach dance for two years. Sometime after her return to China, Xing underwent reassignment surgery which caused the temporary paralysis of her left leg. Despite this, she continued to teach dance after her recovery and soon adopted three children, whom she cared for alone, before she married in 2005. Xing currently owns her own dance company, and is a famous public figure on Chinese television known for her bold and honest statements, especially her criticism of the current state of Chinese media.

5. Atifete Jahjaga (1975-present)

Not many politicians have accomplished even a fraction of President Atifete Jahjaga’s success during her four-year term as the first female president of the Republic of Kosovo. In 2000, Jahjaga graduated with a degree in law from the University of Pristina, before attending the University of Leicester in England to study criminal law. She became an officer after completing studies at Kosovo’s Police Academy and was eventually promoted to major general. During a major political crisis in Kosovo, where the acting president resigned in 2011, Jahjaga was voted into power.

Up until the end of her term in 2016 President Jahjaga worked to legally redefine and protect freedom of expression. She fought hard trying to make Kosovo’s political system fair, democratic, and void of corruption. Also a strong advocate for women’s empowerment, the President hosted the Women’s Summit for female world leaders. This resulted in the formulation of the Pristina Principles, an organized effort to improve women’s living conditions, and status of rights globally. Jahjaga’s perseverance and passion for justice led her to use her position as a high-ranking politician to address a wide-variety of pressing issues. She dealt with matters ranging from the sexual assault of women and men during the recent war in Kosovo, to wide-scale historical corruption of Kosovo’s political leadership, making her arguably one of the most progressive female politicians of her time.

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