Over the course of human history, women have made some of the most valuable contributions to society. Whether it’s in politics, activism, art or science, women have continued to push the envelope. At the same time, many of these changemakers never get the credit they deserve. So, in honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve put together a list of five kick-ass ladies who deserve all the credit they can get.
Deb Haaland is the U.S. House representative for New Mexico’s First Congressional District. In 2018, she and Sharice Davids became the first Native congresswomen in U.S. history. Haaland is known for her efforts to highlight issues facing indigenous people in the United States. One of the most important issues Haaland is championing is the mass disparity between violent crimes committed against Native women and non-Native women. Haaland has used her platform to advocate for the protection of the women in her community, taking initiative to protect a group often overlooked by our government.
Marsha P. Johnson was an LGBTQ civil rights activist who was heavily involved with the gay liberation movement in New York in the 1960s and 70s. She is most well known for her involvement in the Stonewall riots of 1969, during which hundreds of gay and trans people fought back against the brutality they faced at the hands of the New York City Police Department. In the early 70s, Johnson and fellow activist Sylvia Rivera opened up the STAR house, a shelter that primarily housed homeless trans youth in New York City. While she received relatively little recognition for her activism while she was alive, scholars and historians have finally begun to credit Johnson as a central figure in the struggle for LGBTQ rights. She earns a spot on this list because of her bravery in the face of ongoing violence and repression, and her kindness and generosity towards disenfranchised youth.
Maya Lin is a sculptor, architect and artist. In 1980, when she was just 21 years old, Lin entered a competition to design the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She won, beating out her design professor in the process, according to History.com. Unlike many memorials, Lin’s design lacked heroic grandiosity, opting instead for a more realistic representation of the number of lives lost during the war. This sparked controversy, and many veterans, politicians and others protested the design. Her Chinese heritage also became the subject of backlash, and critics cited her ethnicity as a reason for abandonment of the design. However, Lin was unwilling to be bullied into compromising on her artistic vision: to remain apolitical and focus on the lives lost. 40 years later, the monument still stands, proving that nothing can truly prevail against art created with purpose.
Even almost 25 years after her death, Selena Quintanilla remains one of the most influential musicians of our time. Her fifth studio album, “Dreaming of You,” peaked at #1 on the Billboard charts in 1995, cementing her as a successful crossover artist with fans in both the Latin and pop markets. However, her influence went beyond just commercial success. For the first time, a woman was dominating the Tejano music industry. At 15 years old, she won the Tejano music award for best female vocalist and went on to win it for many consecutive years. She was also one of the first Latina artists to be highly visible at an international level. The world was starting to recognize her talent, paving the way for the success of other Latin American artists. Even after her death, her legacy lives on, continuing to inspire a new generation of music artists.
Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician who is widely regarded as the first computer programer. In 1842, Lovelace was commissioned to translate an article written about an analytical machine created by Charles Babbage, a fellow mathematician and Lovelace’s personal friend. In addition to translating the French to English, she also provided pages of her own notes, which she later published in an English scientific journal. Included in these notes were plans for the machine to process letters as well as numbers, and a theoretical code that would direct the machine to repeat a task. While these notes did not garner much attention at the time, they would later be recognized as the first formal computer code, solidifying Lovelace as the Mother of Computer Programming.