Over the weekend, American politician Kamala Harris became the first African American, the first Asian American, the first Caribbean American, and the first woman to hold the title of vice president-elect of the United States. At the time of her acceptance speech, Harris credited her accomplishments to the many women who came before her saying “I stand on their shoulders… And what a testament it is to Joe’s character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country and select a woman as his vice president.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for women to shout the names of these giants whose shoulders she stood on. In a post shared to Reddit, one user asked “who are some women that often get overlooked in history but had major contributions to society?”
The responses to the question came in the thousands.
Check out the answer below!
“Virginia Hall has a building named after her at the CIA. She was an American woman from Baltimore who went to Europe in the 1930s, lost her leg in a shooting accident, then proceeded to become a leader in the French Resistance and master of disguise, all with a wooden leg. The book A Woman of No Importance is about her and came out last year.” –Muchamuchacha42
“Anna Connelly invented the fire escape in 1887.
That same year, Josephine Cochrane invented the dishwasher.” –fergi20020
“Inge Lehmann was a Danish seismologist. She discovered P’ waves (waves that reflect off of the inner-core), confirming that the earth has a solid inner-core and a liquid outer-core.” –Occams_l2azor
“Yes, was just about to comment her as well. It’s shocking she’s not more well known.” –EmulsionPast
“Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.
She is the Dean of Medicine at Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint, MI. She saw that children were having elevated lead levels (ELLs) outside the normal range. She contacted the Genesee Department of Health, who at first, dismissed her claim, then sent her obfuscated data to make it look like the ELLs were completely within normal trends.
She grew frustrated at this, so she called a team of epidemiologists from UVA (her alma mater) to find the source of the lead. Lo and behold, she found that the water in multiple zip codes was contaminated with lead. She informed the Genesee Department of Health Again, who brushed her off. She then said “fuck it” and held a major press conference where she announced on air that the water in Flint wasn’t safe and to come to the hospital to get your child tested and to pick up supplies of water and liquid infant formula.
If she saved thousands of children from the permanent effects of lead poisoning.
Edit 1: thanks for the awards
Edit 2: It was VT, not UVA. Apologies to all the VT alumnae who DM’d me about it.” –MadameBurner
“I was just reading about her yesterday!
She’s also helped design ways to assist parents who have children with lead poisoning as well.” –Special-Kwest
“I’ve met her! She works really closely with my alma mater (Michigan State). A truly fantastic human. And as if this wasn’t enough, back in March she had COVID and after she recovered began donating blood as often as she could so they could use it in antibody and vaccine research!” –escapestrategy
“That’s awesome. And a great lesson that when you’ve researched and you know something is wrong, stick to your guns.” –Yerwun
“She wrote a book called What The Eyes Don’t See, it’s a pretty good read.” –qwryzu
“It was actually a Virginia Tech team that came and found the source.” –joshtm27
“Marie Tharp; she created the first map of the ocean floor, which led to the discovery of tectonic plates, and the theory of continental drift.” –PhantomKitten73
“That doesn’t seem like a lot on the surface, but that really had major impacts on our society.” –MrMan306
“Damnit wegener not as cool as we thought!” –Thundergun7276
Lead to acceptance of the theory of continental drift: the theory existed well beforehand, though it wasn’t widely supported or believed at first due to lacking evidence.
“Dr. Georgeanna Seeger Jones
Dr. Jones singlehandedly organized the field of Gynecological Endocrinology. While at John’s Hopkins with her husband, Dr. Howard Jones and Drs. Roberts and Steptoe, she devised the hypothesis of follicular hyper stimulation, which produced more than one egg per cycle. Her later discoveries led to increases in viability of In Vitro Fertilization.
Per Wikipedia : As a resident at Johns Hopkins, she discovered that the pregnancy hormone hCG was manufactured by the placenta, not the pituitary gland as originally thought. This discovery led to the development of many of the early over-the-counter pregnancy test kits currently available. On 1949, Jones made the first description of Luteal Phase Dysfunction and is credited to be the first in using progesterone to treat women with a history of miscarriages, thus allowing many of them to not only conceive, but to deliver healthy babies
She also served as a Dean of the College of Pontifical Sciences, advising the Vatican of matters of Gynecology and Conception.
Her husband always said “She’s the smarter one.”
She was also a great friend.” –Fyrepup
“Huh. So she’s the one to thank that I even exist.” –theswamphag
“I don’t know why but the fact you wrote she was a great friend suddenly brought tears to my eyes. Reading about all these inspiring women who have done such selfless and incredible things for the world and for someone to acknowledge her as an intimate person, a human being, as well- that was beautiful. Thank you for adding it!” –mistysfrosted
“A great friend of yours? Did you know her?
If so that’s fabulous, I’m glad you’re promoting her memory.” –Indigoes
“Thank you Doctor Jones. Without your contributions I would not have a son snoring in the other room.” –mullingthingsover
“Sandra Ford, the drug technician who first brought attention to what would become the AIDS epidemic. She knew something was up when she began receiving unusually high numbers of requests for pentamidine, an antibiotic reserved for treating pneumocystis pneumonia in seriously ill, immuno-compromised patients. The patients it was being requested for were gay men who had been otherwise healthy.” –scottstot8543
“Oh and also back then it was called grid not aids it stood for gay related immunodeficiency whereas aids stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The more you know.” –eliteaimzONTWITCH
“In a similar vein, Gao Yaojie is an elderly doctor who brought attention to the AIDS pandemic ravaging China’s Henan province in the 90s. She was one of the earliest doctors in China to raise awareness and do public education on AIDS
Instead of being hailed as a hero, she was harassed and silenced by the local authorities who tried to cover up the pandemic (they encouraged blood-selling as a way to lift villages out of poverty, which, with unsanitized equipment, gave rise to the pandemic).” –demsyay
“Frances Oldham Kelley. She stopped thalidomide from getting widespread use in North America, and saved countless children from life-altering birth defects.” –stillpacing
“Thalidomide is a great example to explain the importance of stereochemistry.” –samba_01
“The Allied codebreakers at places like Bletchley Park during WWII. They worked incredibly long, tedious, and stressful hours and were a major contributor to the war effort and military intelligence, but their work didn’t even receive official recognition from the British government until 2009, 64 years after the war ended.”- TheSorge
“Elizabeth Friedman was a huge part of the American side of the code breaking. Her and her husband were originally tasked with training a lot of the first code breakers to fight the mafia during Prohibition. Her husband was set up with official government business during the war and she was given an office of people to train. They often worked with the Bletchly Park people.”- iwannaridearaptor
“I just want to add the unfortunate treatment that Alan Turing received also. At the time, being homosexual was a criminal offence, he was caught and sentenced to chemical castration. Government didn’t stop it, even though we’d be Nazis without him.”- parabolicurve
“In 1952 Dr. Virginia Apgar developed a quick, easy five-point test that summarizes health of newborns, and determine those needing emergency assistance. The Apgar Score is now given to practically every newborn, and helped save countless young lives, and reduce infant mortality.”- anthropology_nerd
“fun fact: i edited her wikipedia page to include her cause of death. i was in a summer program about women’s history and one morning we were asked to edit a famous woman’s wiki page to contribute to more accurate and full info about their lives because that’s not a thing that many people are invested in. so if you get to the part where she died of cirrhosis, that was me.” –curlsandpearls33
“Claudette Colvin was the person who refused to get up from her bus seat during the Jim Crows in America. But she was a young woman who was pregnant out of wedlock at the time, and the black leaders decided she was not a good image of an activist. So they handpicked Rosa Parks to do the same.”- GovMajor
“Elsie MacGill aka “queen of the hurricanes”, she was the worlds first female to earn aeronautical engineering degree. The two major things she did was, she designed the Maple Leaf Trainer ll and she was to look over manufacturing operations at a Canadian factories that built the Hawker Hurricane.” –RedNeckCrazy0_1
“Bessie Coleman. She was a black woman who wanted to learn to fly. No one would teach her. She learned that the French would however, so she moved to France, learned French and how to fly. Then she came back to the states and taught whoever wanted to learn. She was alive same time as Amelia Earhart and got no recognition at the time.”- daschle04
“I was going to put her Im glad someone did. She was a huge part of African Americans getting into flight she played not only a role for females but for African Americans during the early days of aviation, to be able to fly and get into the aviation field.” –Terry_D_
“The main road that runs through the middle of O’Hare Airport is called Bessie Coleman Drive.” –rckid13
“Historical university sexism is a topic often brushed under the rug these days. IIRC the only reason King’s College London exists is because the King was mad that University College London admitted women students and so set up a rival uni that didn’t.” –Danhuangmao
“Cheng I Sao/ Ching Shih was the single most sucessful pirate in all of history. She led an armada of tens of thousands of sailors and 17 seperate fleets of ships and held the most important tributary in china under raiding for weeks on end before managing to give the slip to a combined force of portuguese, chinese, and English war ships after being cornered in an inlet with 2 wounded ships and no way out but through. After this venture, she recognized that her power was begining to wane so she decided it was better to cash out while she had the leverage (one of her fleets had turned on her during the period among other things) She managed to negotiate for literally all of her men to be given amnesty, be allowed to join the chinese navy, to keep the stuff they had stolen, and for her to be able to keep several ships to be able to have a buisness in the salt trade. She then ran a gambling house and died peacefully in her sleep.
Besides a fucking kickass story, she has also had some lasting consequences. Her absolute domination over the chinese navy showed just how much the empire had neglected that wing of the military, and the British picked up on this. It was a big part of why they were so willing to fight a naval war across the entire planet at a time when even messages would take a year and change just to make it back. The opium wars were fought because of this, and the treaties that resulted are called by the current chinese government as the start of “the century of shame” and are a major touchstone in the governments image of itself. They are invoked today when negotiations with the west breakdown as a reason that China ought not bow to outside pressure. For any canadians (of which I am) , its on the level of Vimy ridge in our national conception.” –Dovahkiin419
“One of the things I love about her story is that she would simply execute or punish the men in her crew if they were to rape or wed a female captive without their permission. I think it came from her past of being a sex worker that led to her having that rule.”- overstuffeddumpling
I learned about her at mini golf, of all fucking places. Always wanted to see a movie, series or book about her life.
“Cecilia Payne, discovered what universe is made out of… And don’t even get a mention in textbooks.” –neitral-fella
“My old astrophysics professor actually worked with her, and said it was something to behold her ability to look at plates, and tell you so much about the star.
Edit: He was quite old when I had him as a prof, and to give you an idea how old I am, I didn’t even think about the fact that people wouldn’t know what an astronomical plate is.” –futureformerteacher
“Also vera ruben had a major contribution to the field and was effectively shit canned because she was a woman. Her credit went to others as a result.” –waxy1234
“King Tamara of Georgia. She now represents the Georgian nation in Civilization VI, but before that, not a lot of people knew about her. And whenever she is mentioned, she is mentioned as queen, but she was given the title of KING because she was recognized as an equal monarch (her husbands didn’t have any royal titles). This is an undisputed fact in Georgian historiography, IDK about western scholars, but whenever she is mentioned on the internet or mainstream, would it be Wikipedia or a video game, like CIV VI, she is denied her lawful title and that just pisses me off!” –Sabunia
“Carol KayeCarol Kaye, the First Lady of bass playing. She played over 10,000 sessions, including albums from Frank Sinatra, Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, and the Monkees. I can thank the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and the subreddit for educating me about her.” –Cerrida82
“Belva Lockwood – one of the first female lawyers in the US and ran for president in the 1880s.” –dangerphilosophical
“The two linked videos can tell the story better than I can but Mary Anning is the person from English history I Most admire. A self-taught common woman Mary Anning in the 1800s collected and sold fossils to wealthy patrons. She was an expert in the preparation of fossils. The structure of Society at the time prevented her from contributing more to the emerging field of palaeontology. She died from breast cancer in her 40s. After her bank collapsed wiping out her savings, and the enthusiasm for fossils by the wealthy was dampened by an economic downturn as well as the fad fading. She taught herself anatomy from the Books she was able to come by and by comparing the fossils she unearthed to those of modern sea life she dissected on her kitchen table. She was often right about what categories of life the fossils she presented to the world when many of the “gentlemen scholars” argued over whether something was a fish or a bird or a reptile. In her last years, the men who had so often claimed her discoveries as their own and refused her admission into their exclusive Geological Society of London supported her in some small ways. They raised the funds for a pension she could live on. After she died the Society honoured her with a eulogy and donated a stained glass window to her church.
More than the 1000th documentary on a Queen of England I wish she was more covered by popular media. I have little hope for the upcoming film that does not seem like it will emphasis the parts of her life that I am interested in. Her Life is downright tragic at the end as she is crushed by circumstances beyond her control. From all, I am able to learn she was driven, entrepreneurial, smart, and prudent. But all the came undone because she lived in a time without anything like the FDIC or access to cancer treatment.” –Primarch459
“Daphne Oram – first ever composer to produce electronic sound. She pioneered electronic music and lead the path for music today. She even wrote a piece called “Still Point” that she was never able to perform live because of sexism by her peers and she never heard it live before she died. But it was performed for the first time in 2018 using a replica of a machine Daphne had created to electronically manipulate a live orchestra.” –thatgreengentleman92
“Cecily Saunders deserves the reputation Mother Tereasa has. She basically invented hospice care. Before her, doctors used to just abandon incurables to die with no palliative care.
Cecily Saunders arguably eliminated more useless suffering than anyone ever.” –DrainageSpanial
“Henrietta Lacks. She saved millions of lives and made a critical contribution to the world of medicine, but unless you’re in the medical field — you’ve probably never even heard her name. Henrietta Lacks was a young, black, mother of five when she died in 1951 after being diagnosed with an aggressive cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins. Doctor George Gey was working at Hopkins at the time, trying to culture cells in the laboratory. Lacks’ cells were among dozens sent to his lab, but they were the first to ever survive and grow. Her cells, a unique and aggressive type, were later described as one in three billion. Scientists called these resilient cells “HeLa” — taking first two letters of “Henrietta” and “Lacks.” HeLa cells were used to test the polio vaccine, develop in vitro fertilization, and several chemotherapy drugs among hundreds of medical advances. Grown and sold around the world, Lacks’ legacy lived on in her cells: they have traveled to space, they have been embedded in a nuclear bomb. But for decades, the Lacks family had no idea.” –suckerforsucculents
“Mary Todd Lincoln. I know she went absolutely mad, which wasn’t all her fault, but she was the one who really pushed her husband (Abraham Lincoln for those not from America) to keep moving up the political ladder, and ultimately shaped what the first lady of the U.S is. Not sure he would have become president without her influence. She had a lot more ambition than he did.” –Klaudiapotter
“Sister Rosetta Tharpe
She was super influencial to early rock musicians like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and so many more. Johnny Cash even said that she was his favorite singer and she was also one of the first to play around with heavy distortion on her electric guitar. She’s called by some “The Godmother of Rock and Roll” but I guarantee you that the average person has never heard of her.
Edit: Here’s a cool compilation of some of her guitar solos from films so you can see how much she rocks https://youtu.be/gELe5Rj_tXU” –-eDgAR-
“Edith Wilson. After President Woodrow Wilson had a stroke, she effectively ran the executive branch for the rest of his second term (https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/first-ladies/edith-bolling-galt-wilson/).” –kernel_dev
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