Physicist, chemist, wife and mother of two, Marie Curie was a true renaissance woman. Her most famous achievement during her research into radioactivity was discovering the elements polonium and radium. In 1903, Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, and later on was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes and the first female professor at the University of Paris. Talk about breaking down stereotypes.
This trailblazer holds the distinct honor of being the first Native American woman to become a practicing physician. Although she traveled to both Virginia and Pennsylvania to earn her doctorate, which she earned in 1889, she returned home to the Omaha, Neb., reservation of her childhood to bring lifesaving treatments and care to her people. Susan La Flesche Picotte, a mother of two, cared for both white and Native patients while advocating for equality in healthcare. She was also passionate about cleanliness and keeping the workplace sanitized, as she knew it could stave off deadly diseases like tuberculosis.
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As the mom of two sons in the Navy, while working in an ammunition plant, Vesta Stoudt had the idea to use cloth tape to seal boxes of ammo so it could be opened in mere seconds while keeping the ammo dry, potentially saving the lives of soldiers when time was critical. When her bosses rejected her idea, she went straight to President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself via a written letter. A few weeks later, she received a response that the Navy was going to "fast track" her idea, and thus duct tape was born. And who could imagine our lives without it now?
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The British mother was a passionate suffragette in the late 1800s and founded the Women's Political and Social Union in 1903. After a lifetime filled with multiple protests, demonstrations, hunger strikes and multiple jail stints, Emmeline Pankhurst died in 1928 — just three weeks before women were finally given the right to vote in the U.K.
As the first female prime minister of Pakistan (and of any Muslim state), this mother of three ended military dictatorship and fought for women’s rights and serves as an inspiration for women across the globe. Bhutto was assassinated via a suicide attack in 2007.
During a time when female athletes were often disregarded, a 30-year-old mother of two named Fanny Blankers-Koen won four Olympic gold medals at the 1948 Summer Olympics, earning her the affectionate nickname “The Flying Housewife.” This also earned her the distinction of becoming the most decorated athlete — male or female — at the Olympic Games that year.
A mother and biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1964, Hodgkin is credited with significantly improving healthcare thanks to her work on discovering the structure of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12. She was a leading practitioner of X-ray crystallography, which was a relatively new technology at the time.
As the first female prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi was a polarizing political figure who worked tirelessly to achieve democracy in her native country. She led a movement known as the Green Revolution, which increased crop diversification and created jobs to address the problem of chronic food shortage among the poor. She was assassinated in 1984.
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The 18th-century British writer was referred to as the mother of feminism, and her most famous work, “The Vindication and the Rights of Women” — which argues for the equal status and education of women — has influenced generations of feminists after her. Fun fact: Wollstonecraft was the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of “Frankenstein.” Clearly the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.
As the ultimate mother who inspired Mother’s Day, Jarvis began Mother’s Day Work Clubs in 1858 to improve health and sanitation conditions in an effort to prevent infant mortality. During the Civil War, the organization nursed soldiers from both sides, becoming a symbol of neutrality. In an effort to relieve post-war hostility, Jarvis rallied the members to organize a “Mother’s Friendship Day.” After she passed in 1905, her daughter Anna Jarvis made it her mission to get an official Mother’s Day created — which is how this modern-day holiday came to be.
A well-known name in the women's rights movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was the mother of seven children, worked as an abolitionist alongside some of the greatest activists of her time, including Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. She is also responsible for organizing the very first convention on women's rights, and during the convention read from her "Declaration of Sentiments," which stated that "all men and women are created equal." Although motherhood hindered Stanton's ability to work in the movement, she still contributed by writing Susan B. Anthony's speeches from home.
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When this Puerto Rican mother of three tried to enroll her three children in an all-white school in California and was denied by the school administration, she got fired up—fast. With help from the League of United Latin American Citizens, Felicitas Mendez and several other families filed a class-action lawsuit against the district and fought to end segregated schools in the state. In 1947, after years in court, the governor of California enacted legislation that allowed minority students the right to an integrated education. This incredible win opened the door for a more well-known case, Brown vs. the Board of Education, which took the matter of segregated schools to the Supreme Court and made integrated education a federal law.
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She was the first woman to serve as cabinet secretary, and worked as Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of labor, but that's not what made this mother of one so spectacular. She is known as "the principal architect of the New Deal," a combined effort of experimental projects and programs throughout the nation that helped families recover from the financial crisis of the Great Depression. Her ideas, which included federal aid, minimum wage, safety regulations and a nation-wide pension system (and so much more), changed the workplace for American employees and allowed the economy to slowly, but surely recover from the brink of devastation.
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Born Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler in Vienna, Austria, this beauty became an international film star in the early 1930s and starred alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable. In 1942, between making movies and posing as the pinup girl in numerous magazines, Hedy Lamarr, a mother of three, became known for something quite spectacular, far outside the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown. Together, she and her composer friend George Antheil received a patent for a "secret communication system" that relied on changing radio frequencies to send coded messages. It took 55 years for the technology, which would guide the development of both military and cellular communication, to be attributed to Lamarr and Antheil. In 1997, they were awarded for their discovery.
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A prolific author, this mother of two sons experienced great pain before publishing her first novel in 1884. Not only had she lost both of her parents as a teenager, but her first husband and both of their children died as well. Possibly to cope with her loss, she immersed herself in her writing, publishing the book "A Century of Dishonor" and the novel "Ramona," both of which spoke against the laws that disenfranchised Native Americans. "Ramona," which took place in California, was so popular, it was reprinted more than 300 times and made into four separate film adaptations.
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During a time of political upheaval, this brave mother of two refused to give in to discrimination and hatred. When Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Irena Sendler defied authorities by offering Jews food and shelter. As ghettos were being erected, Sendler couldn't stand watching families being torn apart, so she and a group of underground friends (known as Zegota) enacted a scheme to save them by any means possible, using ambulances, fake documents and safe houses to rescue thousands, focusing their efforts primarily on orphaned Jewish children. Eventually, Sendler was arrested and tortured, but she escaped a death sentence with the help of her friends and lived to the ripe old age of 98.
Considered the "mother of modern management," Lillian Moller Gilbreth was both an American psychologist and one of the first female industrial engineers. She earned her Ph.D in psychology in 1915. Along with her husband, Frank, this mother of 12 studied how people worked at their jobs and crafted an industrial management style that honored both the mental aspect of human workers and workplace efficiency. Today, her innovative management model is still used in many industries across the U.S. Her legacy proves that women can have families and still contribute to society in amazing ways.
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If you've ever had a female doctor in the U.S., you can thank this mother of three. Lydia Folger Fowler was the first American-born woman to earn an American medical degree, in 1850. As the first cousin (four times removed) from Benjamin Franklin, it would seem that this doctor and women's rights activist had great potential running through her veins. She went on to publish numerous books, such as "Familiar Lessons on Physiology: Designed for the Use of Children and Youth" and "Woman, Her Destiny and Maternal Relations; Or, Hints to the Single and Married."
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Not only was this mother of two the first African-American female newspaper editor in North America, but she was also the first female publisher in Canada. Among her many hats, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was a teacher, an editor, an abolition activist, a lawyer and a journalist who wrote on issues that affected African-Americans. She even opened an integrated school in Canada that taught all children, regardless of race. During the Civil War, Cary went to the United States and worked to actively recruit African-American soldiers to help fight against the Confederacy and slavery. She also has the esteemed title of being the second African-American woman in history to earn a U.S. law degree, which she earned in 1883.
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