Picture a leader. Do you see a woman? If not, you aren’t alone. A recent study published in the Academy of Management Journal confirms that getting recognized as a leader is more difficult for women than for men.
Yet, history is filled with women who defied the norms like the four women below who persisted in claiming their leadership role – though you may have never heard of them.
1. Victoria Woodhull, First Woman to Run for President (among other firsts). Victoria Woodhull was a leader of the women’s suffrage movement. She was the first woman to own a brokerage firm, Woodhull, Claflin & Co., on Wall Street, the first woman to start a weekly newspaper, and an activist for women’s rights and labor reform. At her peak of political activity in the early 1870s, Woodhull is best known as the first woman candidate for the United States presidency, which she ran for in 1872 for the Equal Rights Party, supporting women’s suffrage and equal rights.
“I shall not change my course because those who assume to be better than I desire it.”
2. Elizabeth Jennings, Sued a Railroad Company for Segregation (and won). A little over 100 years before Rosa Parks took a stand by sitting on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, Jennings, a young African-American schoolteacher, struck her own blow for justice after she was forcibly thrown off a segregated streetcar in lower Manhattan. Jennings teamed up with future president of the United States Chester Arthur to sue the Third Avenue Railroad Company, paving the way for integrated transportation in New York.
“Ladies wear a lot of hats, and they deserve this.” (Note the double entendre.)
3. Lois Weber, First American Woman to Direct a Feature-Length Film. An innovative visual storyteller whose films tackled social issues, Weber was also one of the most respected and highest paid filmmakers in the industry. Her name was routinely mentioned alongside that of D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille as one of the top talents in Hollywood. In 1916, she was the first and only woman elected to the Motion Picture Directors Association, a solitary honor she would retain for decades.
” I like to direct, because I believe a woman, more or less intuitively, brings out many of the emotions that are rarely expressed on the screen. I may miss what some of the men get, but I will get other effects that they never thought of.”
4. Kathrine Switzer, First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon (and fight off a race official on the route). In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially run what was then the all-male Boston Marathon, infuriating one of the event’s directors who attempted to violently eject her. In one of the most iconic sports moments, Switzer escaped and finished the race. She made history then and has continued to run the race with No. 261 emblazoned on her shirt nearly every year since, including last year at age 71.
Life is for participating, not for spectating.
To close with a quote from Shirley Chisolm,
“Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”
Question: What women have you known who have changed the world despite the odds?
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