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  • Writer's pictureProject Empower Circle

5 Empowering Women You’ve Probably Never Heard of!

Happy Women’s History month! We wanted to bring to light a few empowering women past and present who we look up to. Check out these 5 inspiring women who have impacted our lives!

1. Ida Tarbell

“Imagination is the only key to the future. Without it none exists - with it all things are possible.”

Ida Tarbell was an investigative journalist who went up against John D. Rockefeller to expose the Big Oil Industry. She was one of 4 women at her university in the late 1800s and initially wanted to pursue science but women were deterred from studying science at the time. So, she found a new passion in investigative journalism.

At the time, Standard Oil (John D. Rockefeller’s company) had a monopoly on oil production and processing, and this was putting smaller oil producers out of business. Tarbell’s father had been one of these smaller oil producers and she had first handedly experienced the loss of her father’s small business. This fuelled (pun intended) the article series that would reach the supreme court and lead to the break-up of the Big Oil Industry. Ida Tarbell is a powerful female icon who was relentless in her pursuit of justice for the working class.

Read more here!

2. Madam CJ Walker

“Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”

Madam CJ Walker was the first female self-made millionaire in the United States and one of the wealthiest African Americans of her time. Starting out as a laundress, Madam CJ Walker had a vision to earn more so that she could put her daughter through formal education. This motivated Madam CJ Walker to start selling hair care for Annie Malone on the basis of commission. However, it was clear that the hair care industry ignored the issues of a large subset of the population; the African American population. Noticing this gap in the market, Madam CJ Walker started developing formulas that specifically targeted black women.

Her novel products attracted thousands and her business grew to employ many women. The growth of her business allowed Madam CJ Walker to have a platform and the funds to support many philanthropic causes, including building a YMCA for the black community and building orphanages. Madam CJ Walker is the original fempreneur who set the stage for other women to become business owners.

Read more here!

3. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

“When I felt rather overcome with my father's opposition, I said as firmly as I could, that I must have this or something else, that I could not live without some real work.”

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first female physician in England and paved the path for other women to also seek medical education. When told that she could not attend medical school because she was a female, Anderson enrolled into nursing school and started going to classes intended for males at the medical school. Anderson went on to write the exam that would allow her to gain her certification as a doctor because the examination board did not prevent women from writing the exam. She found the loophole in the system and passed all her exams, becoming the first certified female physician in the UK. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson changed the system by opening the doors for other women to become physicians.

Read more here!

4. Katherine Johnson

“Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Something they have more imagination than men.”

You might have heard of Katherine Johnson, after Taraji P. Henson portrayed her in one of our favourite movies, Hidden Figures. Katherine Johnson was a mathematician who made critical calculations that enabled US spaceflights. As a young learner, Katherine Johnson was selected to be one of three black students to integrate into West Virginia’s graduate school.

Demonstrating utmost perseverance and resilience, Katherine Johnson’s work contributed significantly to the Apollo 11 mission, which put the first human on the moon. Katherine Johnson is an inspiration to the curious and serves as a symbol of the contributions of women and ethinic minorities in STEM.

Read more here!

5. Helen Zia

“To be silent is a privilege.”

As a Chinese-American journalist and an advocate for the lGBTQ+ and Asian American rights, Helen Zia is an activist we all need to learn from. Born to first generation immigrants, Helen Zia grew up understanding the role that race played in having privilege. Enrolled to become a medical doctor, Helen Zia pivoted to choose a path less taken of becoming a community organizer and advocate for women’s rights and standing up against discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Helen Zia played a key role in the Supreme Court Case that would allow for same-sex marraige in California and he marriage to her partner, Lisa Shigemura, became the first same-sex marraige in the states history. Helen Zia’s advocacy inspires young advocates around the world and affirms that impact happens one small step at a time.

Read more here!

Sources & Further Readings


About the Author

Pallavi Dutta is a MSc eHealth graduate from McMaster University who conducts behaviour change research. She is a curious individual who is always looking for opportunities to grow and believes in the power of uplifting one another. She is also one of the co-creators of Project Empower Circle.

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