By Madison Heiser
Graphic by Mary Mone
March is nationally recognized as Women’s History Month, which serves to honor and educate individuals about the achievements of influential women throughout history, especially American history. To commemorate this month, this feature celebrates five female figures for their accomplishments in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), art, entertainment, activism and politics.
STEM: Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson was a NASA mathematician and computer who performed calculations during astronaut John Glenn’s journey into Earth’s orbit, as well as later Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle program, according to nasa.gov. Johnson was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and attended historically Black West Virginia State College, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1937. Johnson worked for NASA from 1953 to 1986 as one of the first women and African Americans to contribute to America’s endeavors into space travel. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by former President Barack Obama for her achievements. Johnson died in February 2020 at the age of 101.
Art: Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe was a 20th century artist whose oil paintings helped pioneer the American Modernist movement, according to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. O’Keeffe was born in 1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and attended both the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York. During her time in school, O’Keeffe developed her own abstract style and saw her work first exhibited in 1916. O’Keeffe commonly painted scenes of skyscrapers, flowers and later natural landscapes from America and abroad. According to culturetrip.com, O’Keeffe’s art has been exhibited in numerous museums including the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Cleveland Museum of Art. O’Keeffe died in 1986 at the age of 98.
Entertainment: Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay is a director, writer and producer whose projects include “Selma,” “13th,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and “When They See Us.” A number of DuVernay’s critically acclaimed projects have focused on racial history and disparity in the U.S. According to womenshistory.org, DuVernay was born in 1972 in Long Beach, California, and studied English and African American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. DuVernay was the first Black woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival and is currently the highest grossing Black female director in history. She has been nominated for numerous awards including several Emmy awards, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
Activism: Angela Davis
Angela Davis is an American activist and writer who rose to prominence in the 1960s and 70s for her involvement in civil rights issues, particularly the Black prison system and police issues in America, according to history.com. Davis was born in 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama, witnessing segregation during her childhood as well as racially-motivated attacks such as the 1963 Birmingham church bombing. She was charged with conspiracy in a murder case in 1970, but was acquitted in 1972. Davis now serves as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has written several books including “Women, Race, and Class,” “Are Prisons Obsolete?” and “The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues.”
Politics: Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris currently serves as the vice president of the U.S. under President Joe Biden after her inauguration in January 2021. According to whitehouse.gov, Harris was born in 1964 in Oakland, California, and attended Howard University and the University of California to pursue a law degree. Harris was elected District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003 and later Attorney General of California in 2010. She served as a California Senator from 2017 until her election as vice president. Upon her inauguration, Harris became the first African American and the first woman to serve as vice president of the U.S.