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Forgotten Women in History

  • 08 Mar 2024

Certainly! Recognizing the remarkable contributions of forgotten women in history is an integral part of commemorating International Women's Day. International Women's Day, celebrated annually on March 8th, is a global day honouring the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. It also serves as a call to action for accelerating gender parity and promoting women's rights worldwide.

The history books are full of stories of great heroes who changed the trajectory of human civilization. However, among these stories of daring and triumph, there is one obvious omission: history's unsung ladies. These exceptional women have been eclipsed by their male colleagues, with their achievements sometimes forgotten or minimised. We must remember and honor the brave and remarkable women who have broken traditional norms and achieved tremendous success in a variety of fields. Despite facing numerous obstacles and systemic barriers, these women have made significant impacts on society, culture, science, politics, and more. Here are a few examples of forgotten women from various fields:

Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 360–415 AD)

Hypatia was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who made significant contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy during the late Roman period.

Hypatia improved various scientific instruments, produced mathematics textbooks, and devised a more efficient long-division method. Hypatia wrote a poem based on Diophantus' thirteen-volume Arithmetica, which has 100 mathematical problems with algebraic solutions.

Hypatia also created an Astrolabe, a device that calculates the date and time based on the locations of stars and planets. She also created a hydrometer, a tool for determining fluid densities.

It is not clear if she participated in any original mathematical research. However, she helped her father create a revised version of Euclid's Elements.

Hypatia was a Neoplatonist who believed that mathematics had a spiritual aspect and was split into four branches: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. She believed that numbers were the divine language of the universe.

As one of the few female scholars of her time, Hypatia's teachings and writings influenced generations of scholars and helped preserve ancient knowledge during a period of cultural and religious upheaval.

Mary Anning (1799–1847)

Mary Anning was a British fossil collector and palaeontologist who made significant discoveries in the field of palaeontology, particularly in the Jurassic marine fossil beds of Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. In 1823, Mary discovered the full skeleton of a Plesiosaurus, which means 'near to reptile'.

Despite her rising reputation for discovering and identifying fossils, the scientific community was reticent to acknowledge her contributions. In 1828, Mary discovered a bizarre tangle of bones, this time with a long tail and wings. She discovered the earliest known Dimorphodon remnants. It was the first pterosaur (Pterosaurs, unlike ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, had wings and were thought to be the world's largest flying animals) discovered outside Germany. The term Pterodactyl was coined later.

Anning's discoveries, including the first complete Ichthyosaur skeleton and the first Plesiosaur skeleton, helped shape our understanding of prehistoric life, despite facing gender and class barriers in the scientific community.

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)

Ada Lovelace was a British mathematician and writer known for her work on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Ada Lovelace is recognized as the first computer programmer. She realised that the computer might do a complex computation by following a set of basic instructions, known as a program.

Babbage only built a small portion of the Analytical Engine, but Lovelace's contributions have been remembered. Ada, an early programming language, was named after her, and the second Tuesday in October has been designated as Ada Lovelace Day, which recognizes women's achievements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Often considered the world's first computer programmer, Lovelace's pioneering work laid the foundation for modern computing and algorithms, though her contributions were largely unrecognised during her lifetime.

Savitribai Jyotirao Phule (1831-1897)

She was the first female teacher in India's first girls' school. Born in Naigaon, Maharashtra, she was a social reformer. Savitribai Phule and her husband, social activist Jyotirao Phule, established a school for females in Bhidewada, Pune, in 1848.

She headed to challenge societal preconceptions during the British reign, with the support of her husband. She promoted social reform in Maharashtra by teaching women.

Ida B. Wells (1862–1931)

Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist, educator, and civil rights activist who campaigned against lynching and racial injustice in the United States. Wells received the Pulitzer Prize "for her remarkable and daring reporting on the terrible and vicious cruelty against African Americans amid the era of lynching".

Through her investigative journalism and activism, Wells exposed the brutal realities of lynching and racial violence, becoming one of the most prominent voices in the early civil rights movement.

Helen Keller (1880–1968)

Helen Keller experienced incredible adversity in the late nineteenth century when she lost her sight and hearing due to an illness contracted during infancy. She seems destined for a life of solitude and silence. Helen bucked the odds, thanks to her instructor, Anne Sullivan, who was relentless in her support. She learned to communicate by touch and eventually mastered Braille.

Keller was the first deaf-blind person in the United States to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was a prolific author, having written 14 books and hundreds of speeches and essays on subjects ranging from animals to Mahatma Gandhi. Keller advocated for people with disabilities, women's suffrage, labour rights, and international peace.

Her incredible path from isolation to becoming a successful author, activist, and lecturer exemplifies the human spirit's remarkable ability to overcome the most severe adversities.

Dr. Muthu Laxmi Reddi (1886-1968)

Muthulakshmi Reddi, a lady with many firsts, defied gender stereotypes and pushed her limits in a variety of domains. She made a significant contribution to medicine, education, law, and other professions.

Her tireless efforts to enhance the lives of women and children in all aspects were well acknowledged. The leaders of the moment elected to put her name in the first flag of Independent India, which was raised on the Red Fort in 1947.

The Adyar Cancer Institute was founded in 1954 by Dr. Reddi’s efforts. The institute is still active today and has undertaken substantial research in the field to provide care for those who have been diagnosed.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (1903-1988)

She was born in Mangalore and was India's first woman to run for political office in the Madras Legislative Assembly. Kamala Devi accomplished in several positions, including independence warrior, handicraft aficionado, feminist, social reformer, and stage performer.

Kamala Devi participated in the Salt Satyagraha. She shunned government positions and devoted her life to humanitarian work. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 1955 and 1987, respectively. She is renowned as Hatkargha Maa for her contribution to the handloom industry.

Dorothy Vaughan (1910–2008)

During the early years of the United States space programme, several talented African American women known as the "Hidden Figures" played critical roles at NASA. Dorothy Vaughan, a mathematician and computer programmer, was among these pioneers. Her work, and that of her colleagues, was critical to the success of early space flights.

These women overcome racial and gender prejudice to make significant contributions to the area of aerospace. Their stories brought to life in the book and film "Hidden Figures," have shed much-needed light on their accomplishments and the larger civil rights battle.

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912–1997)

Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-American physicist who made significant contributions to the Manhattan Project during World War II and conducted groundbreaking experiments in nuclear physics.

She is well known for carrying out the Wu experiment, demonstrating that parity is not conserved. This discovery earned her colleagues Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics, and Wu herself received the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978.

Wu's experiments disproved the law of conservation of parity, a fundamental principle in particle physics, and paved the way for discoveries in the field, though her male colleagues received more recognition.

Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958)

Rosalind Franklin was a British biophysicist whose work was critical to understanding the molecular structure of DNA. More crucially, it was established that the molecule was in a helical configuration. Her efforts to improve X-ray patterns of DNA molecules laid the groundwork for James Watson and Francis Crick's 1953 proposal that DNA is a double-helix polymer, although her contributions were often overlooked at the time.

She worked on experiments that demonstrated that the virus's ribonucleic acid (RNA) was embedded in its protein rather than in its central cavity . This RNA was a single-strand helix instead of the double helix found in the DNA of bacterial viruses and higher animals. Franklin's engagement in cutting-edge DNA research was cut short by her tragic death from cancer in 1958.

She also made significant contributions to the science of structural virology by providing fresh insights into virus structure. Her work on the physical chemistry of carbon and coal led to her study of the structural changes induced by the creation of graphite in heated carbons, which proved useful to the coking industry.

Wangari Maathai (1940–2011)

Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan environmentalist, political activist, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2004) who founded the Green Belt Movement, which focused on tree planting, conservation, and women's rights.

She had taken a comprehensive approach to sustainable development, emphasising democracy, human rights, and women's rights in particular. She thought globally, but acted locally.

Maathai's grassroots environmental activism empowered communities, promoted sustainable development, and highlighted the interconnectedness of environmental conservation and social justice.


As we come to the end of our journey through the lives of history's forgotten women, we are reminded that their stories are more than just relics. They are lighthouses of inspiration, leading us to a more comprehensive understanding of history and the many voices that shaped it.

These remarkable women and many others have left indelible marks on history, challenging stereotypes, breaking barriers, and paving the way for future generations of women and girls to pursue their passions and dreams. It's essential to recognize and celebrate their contributions to society and ensure that their legacies are remembered and honoured.


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