Every year we lose many women that have led incredible lives however some of them may not been remembered in the lists that are compiled at year’s end. Inspired By My Mom is starting a traditional of paying tribute to women that led fascinating and inspirational lives yet may not have been as celebrated for their achievements and contributions as they deserve to be. These ladies need to be brought to the forefront of herstory and recognized for their contributions. This may not be a complete or exhaustive list but it is done with heart and includes women from various walks of life, countries and occupations.
Alice Marie Coachman was an American high jumper and the first African American woman to become an Olympic champion by winning a gold medal at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, England. She was also the only American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics that year with her medal being was presented by King George VI. When her athletic career ended, she went on to become a teacher where her accomplishments served as inspiration for her students. This ground-breaking athlete passed away this summer at 90 years young.
Anahita Ratebzad was the first Afghan woman to play an active role in government and one of the few Afghan women to become a medical doctor. On May 28, 1978 she wrote the famous editorial in the New Kabul Times which declared: “Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country … Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention.” She died in September at the age of 82.
Anna Niedringhaus, a German photojournalist with the Associated Press, was shot and killed at the age of 48 in an attack in Afghanistan while covering the country’s 2014 presidential election in April. The journalist was part of an independent election commission convoy delivering ballots under the protection of the Afghan National Army and Afghan police. An Afghan policeman opened fire at the car she was waiting in at a checkpoint, part of an election convoy.
Barbara Washburn was an American mountaineer who became the first woman to climb North America’s highest peak Denali (Mount McKinley) in 1947. She did not realize her achievement until after the ascent. With her husband, she completed a large-scale map of the Grand Canyon, published as a National Geographic magazine supplement in July 1978. The Washburns later produced the most detailed and accurate map ever made of Mount Everest. Barbara passed away a few weeks short of her 100th birthday.
Christine Daure-Serfaty was a French human rights activist and writer who arrived in Morocco in 1962 where she embraced the fight of the victims of King Hassan II during the “Years of Lead”. She was the first person to denounce the existence of the secret prison of death, Tazmamart and helped pen “Notre ami le roi”(“Our friend, the King”) by Gilles Perrault, a book that exposed the prison and Hassan II’s regime. As a result, many prisoners were saved from certain death. In 1991, she was expelled from the country and was only allowed to return after Hassan II’s death. Christine Daure-Serfaty died on 28 May 2014 at a hospital in Paris at 87.
Eva Antonie Kløvstad (née Jørgensen) Despite the fact that she was a female and very young, she took part in resistance work during the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany. From 1944 she served as assistant to the leader of Milorg district 25 (D-25), who was shot by the Gestapo later in 1944 at which point Eva became the de facto leader of the district which had about 1,200 underground soldiers. It was not until the 1980s, when the interest in women’s efforts during WWII grew, that Eva Kløvstad (Codename “Jacob”) spoke publicly about her work with the resistance in Norway. She passed away at the age of 92.
Florentina López de Jesús was a traditional Amuzgo weaver born into a poor family in Xochislahuaca, Guerrero, Mexico in 1939. She learned to weave cotton garments by watching and imitating her mother starting at age six. Tina, as she was known by friends and family, worked to promote Amuzgo textiles and the rights of indigenous women. In 1969, she founded the first cooperative for women weavers in her hometown. Her work was recognized worldwide by various awards she received and has been exhibited in museums and various international exhibits, including one in Spain in 2001 that attracted the attention of Queen Sofia. López de Jesús died at age 74 from a heart attack and most of the town attended her funeral.
Geraldine Fredritz Mock (Jerrie Mock) was the first woman to fly solo around the world. Her trip started on March 19, 1964 in Columbus, Ohio and ended 29 days, 21 stopovers and almost 22,860 miles (36,790 km) later when she landed her single engine Cessna 180 the “Spirit of Columbus”. She was subsequently awarded the Louis Blériot medal from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1965. This American pilot and flying pioneer died in September at the age of 88.
Hazel M. Sampson (nee Hall) was an American Klallam elder and language preservationist. She was the last native speaker of the Klallam language though some younger members continue to speak it as a second language. Born in 1910 to William Hall and Ida Balch Hall, she was the granddaughter of Lord James Balch, the founder of Jamestown and the namesake of both the town and the Tribe. Her parents taught her the Klallam language though she later learned English as a second language. She was a member of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe of Washington and the oldest member of the Klallam communities at the time of her death in 2014 at 103 years old.
Jadwiga Piłsudska-Jaraczewska was a Polish pilot, who served in the Air Transport Auxiliary in Britain during the Second World War. She was the younger of two daughters of Marshal and Naczelnik Józef Piłsudski, a Polish statesman and Poland’s de facto leader until 1935. Jadwiga left her homeland when Poland was invaded in 1939 and she acquired her aircraft pilot’s license in Britain. With the rank of Second Officer, she flew unarmed military aircraft in the dangerous skies of wartime Britain and was one of several Polish women who served as wartime ferry pilots. She passed away at 94 in Warsaw, Poland where she returned after the fall of the Communist government.
Mae Keane, at the age of 107, was the last of those known as the “Radium Girls” who worked at a watch factory where she and her co-workers were taught a specific technique for applying luminous paint to the numbers on wristwatch dials. Instructions were “Put the tip of the tiny brush between your lips to shape the bristles into the finest of points.” One by one, the dial painters began, mysteriously, to fall ill. Their teeth fell out, their mouths filled with sores, their jaws rotted, they wasted away, weakened by an apparently unstoppable anemia. Soon after, nine of the dial painters – women in their 20s – were dead. The “glow-in-the-dark- paint” was radium and it was killing them. Fortunately for Mae, she only lasted at her position for a few months. Even after working there such a short while, she lost all her teeth and suffered from bouts with cancer.
Maya Angelou, an American author and civil rights activist, left us mourning her passing in May having lived 86 full and amazing years. She became a poet and writer after a series of occupations as a young adult, including as a journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. She published autobiographies, books of essays and poetry as well as being credited with a list of plays, movies and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. In 2010 she was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. Maya Angelou had not only lived to see the first African American elected president but had also been recognized by him for her important contributions.
Molly Bobak (née Lamb) was the first Canadian woman artist to be sent overseas to document Canada’s war effort, in particular the work of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC). She was sent to London after V-E Day in Europe where she met her artist husband who encouraged her work throughout her life. Molly Bobak received numerous awards during her artistic career, including honorary doctorates and the Order of Canada in 1995. She died in March at 92 and will be remembered through her works that are in museums and private collections around the world.
Nadine Gordimer was a South African writer and anti-apartheid activist who passed away in July at 90 years old. She grappled with the injustices and politics of apartheid, and her works, such as Burger’s Daughter and July’s People, were banned by the then regime. When she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991, Alfred Nobel recognized her as a woman “who through her magnificent epic writing has been of very great benefit to humanity”.
Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, better known as P. D. James, was a British crime writer. Born in Oxford, England in 1920, she left school at sixteen to help support her family. She married in 1941, but when her husband returned from World War II with health issues, she became the family provider. She worked for a hospital board in London from 1949 to 1968, but started writing in the mid-1950s. Her first novel ,Cover Her Face, introduced the character of Adam Dalgliesh who was featured in many of her novels. She received numerous honours throughout her life and, in 1991, James was created a life peer as Baroness James. She died at her home in Oxford on November 27, aged 94, and is survived by her two daughters, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Princess Jin Moyu, also known as Aisin Gioro Xianqi or Aixinjueluo Xianqi, was the last surviving Manchu princess. Born in China in 1918, she lived in Japan as a student however chose to move back to Beijing when she was nineteen years old. Her older brothers lost most of the family fortune in 1948 following the Chinese Civil War and fled to British Hong Kong, leaving Jin Moyu destitute and taking care of her daughter and a large extended family. In February 1958, Jin was arrested at her home and imprisoned, solely for being a descendent of the Qing Dynasty imperial family. She was released to a forced labour camp in 1973 and continued to struggle until 1978 when she wrote a letter to Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping pleading for a job, a request he eventually granted. During the 1980s, Jin began planning to create a Japanese language school in China which she opened in 1996. Jin Moyu, the last living Manchurian princess, died at a Beijing hospital in May at the age of 95.
Shirley Temple Black, an American child actress and diplomat, passed away in February at the age of 85. She began her film career when she was only three years old and was “American’s Sweetheart” and Hollywood’s number one box-office star from 1935 to 1938. Her popularity waned as she reached adolescence however, in later years, she re-invented herself and entered politics. In 1972, Shirley Temple Black was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. In deciding to announce it to the media she became one of the first prominent women to speak openly about breast cancer and encourage other women who required the surgery and treatment.
Sonia d’Artois (nee Butt) was born in Kent, England in 1924. Raised by her mother in the south of France, they returned to England when World War II broke out. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, and at only 19, she was interviewed by the SOE (the Special Operations Executive). She had just turned 20 when she parachuted into Nazi-occupied France as an undercover British agent with the code names Blanche and Madeleine. Working as a courier, she and her partner on the mission also recruited and trained people in the French resistance for sabotage and intelligence operations. After one of the other agents with her was shot during a battle, Sonya took on the additional role of Weapons Instructor. Sonia was made a member of the Order of the British Empire, and, about 10 years ago, received France’s Légion d’honneur. She passed away in Canada in December at the age of 90.
Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh was a Nigerian physician who is credited with having curbed a wider spread of the Ebola virus in Nigeria by placing patient zero, a Liberian-American, in quarantine despite pressures from the Liberian Government. After having dealt with a potential crisis and treating the patient, it was confirmed that she tested positive for the Ebola virus strain and she died at 57 in the afternoon of August 19th. Her only son, Bankole Cardoso, still mourns the loss of his mother, saying it’s becoming “more and more apparent exactly what she had done” by identifying patient zero.
Stephanie Louise Kwolek was born to Polish immigrant parents in the United States in 1923. She attributed her attraction to science to her father who was a naturalist by avocation. Although she was interested in teaching, chemistry and medicine once she stated with DuPont on polymer research she found it so interesting and challenging that she decided to drop her plans for medical school. In 1965 she succeeded in creating the first of a family of synthetic fibers of exceptional strength and stiffness with the best known being Kevlar. Having received many awards for her invention of the technology behind Kevlar, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994 as only the fourth woman member of 113. She was 90 when she passed away this summer.