10 Famous Women on International Women's Day!

Today is International Women's Day, declared by the United Nations. It reminds me of the hardest-to-do activity in the Dads & Daughters® workshops I do around the country.

It's called "10 Famous Women."  

(Hint: This is Ida. B. Wells)

I ask the father-daughter pairs to name 10 famous women—but with one important caveat: the list cannot include any contemporary singers, actors, or performers. Eliminating celebrities makes it a hard list for most people to complete, and it reveals two important truths:

  1. Girls and women are still very likely to achieve fame for their looks or for relatively fleeting accomplishments (like being a pop star)
  2. Girls and women are still fairly invisible in the halls of history and the halls of decision-making.

This activity is simple: leaving off any current celebrities, list ten famous women, and a brief description of why they are famous.

You can do this as a friendly competition between daughter and father, or in a group of daughter-father pairs. You can base the competition on any one of these factors:

  • Who finishes their list first
  • Who has women from the widest range of history
  • Who has the most unique names—names that no one else has on their list
  • Who has the most names of women from outside your home country

To provide an example, I’ve listed ten women who made substantial contributions to history.

  • Mary Tsukamoto: a teacher who worked to get the U.S. government to compensate Japanese-American families (like her own) who were interned in prison camps during World War II.
  • Patsy Mink: the first woman of color to serve in the U.S. Congress. A long-time Hawaiian Congresswoman, she was a primary sponsor of Title IX, the civil rights statute outlawing gender discrimination in American education.
  • Debi Thomas: the first African American woman to win gold medal in a world figure skating competition.
  • Juana Gutierrez: influential Los Angeles community organizer who helped createthe Madres de Este Los Angeles (MELASI).
  • Janet Guthrie: pilot, flight instructor, and aerospace engineer who became the first woman to drive a race car in the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 (both in 1977)
  • Mary Taylor Previte: spent seven years in a World War II Japanese POW camp, and then used the experience to create a national juvenile justice model for helping children ages 14 to 17 at the Camden County (NJ) YouthCenter.
  • Jeannette Rankin: first women elected to the U.S. Congress (a Republican from Montana), years before women were granted the right to vote nationally. Did you know that the Republican Party favored women's suffrage long before Democrats did? 
  • Geraldyn (Jerrie) Cobb: first woman to pass qualifying exams for astronaut training, in 1959. But this famous pilot was kept out of the program because she was a woman.
  • Dorothy Height: President of National Council of Negro Women for more than 40 years.
  • Maria Tallchief: the daughter of an Osage Chief, she was prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet and founded the Chicago City Ballet with her sister, Marjorie.

How many of these women had you heard of? Your answer may tell you how hard it is to find famous women on the ordinary person’s radar.

The first time you do 10 Famous Women, you and your daughter can each borrow one of the women on my list. Then head off into the exciting and fascinating world of women who made a difference.

Here are some excellent online resources for uncovering women’s history heroes:

National Women’s History Project.

NWHP also has a fabulous links page which can connect you with dozens and dozens of other sites on almost every aspect of women’s history.

The (U.S.) National Archives Pathfinder for Women's History section.

Library and Archives Canada Celebrating Women's Achievements page.

National Women’s History Museum.

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