International Women’s Day (IWD) takes place on 8th March each year, celebrating women’s achievements while also calling for equality.
The event has been observed worldwide since the early 1900s as people around the world hold performances, talks, rallies, conferences and marches!
How International Women’s Day Began
IWD can be traced back to 1908, when 15,000 suffragette’s marched through New York City demanding the right to vote, better pay and shorter working hours. A year later, the first National Woman’s Day was observed in the US and the seed for the annual day was planted.
In 1910, Clara Zetkin – leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany – suggested that women should be celebrated around the world on one day every year.
A conference of 100s of women from 17 countries agreed to her suggestion and IWD was formed. On March 19 1911, it was celebrated formally for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.
In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on that day ever since.
The day was recognised by the United Nations in 1975 which creates a theme for the celebration each year. The theme this year is #EachforEqual, and aims to recognise all the actions people can take to challenge stereotypes, fight prejudice and celebrate women’s achievements.
And that’s exactly what we’re going to do! Below are 5 inspirational British women whose achievements have often been overlooked…
Britain’s Inspirational Women
Ada Lovelace, Mathematician (December 10, 1815 – November 27, 1852)
Ada Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord Byron, was raised in a very academic environment and she was obsessed with science and mathematics and formed a love for machines at a young age. In her teenage years she began working with ‘the father of computers’, Charles Babbage.
Together they worked on the Analytical Engine and Lovelace worked on an article which many consider to be the first example of computer programming. Lovelace was also the first person to acknowledge the capability of what computers could do, knowing they could go further than just number crunching.
Dorothy Lawrence, Journalist (October 4, 1896 – October 4, 1964)
Dorothy Lawrence was a journalist who posed as a man to become a soldier during World War I – making her the only known English woman to have been on the frontline during the First World War.
Working as a war correspondent for The Times, Lawrence decided the only way she was going to write the stories she wanted to was to disguise herself and see the fighting first-hand. She found a number of allies who smuggled items of uniform to her and helped her learn to drill and march. She obtained forged identity papers and made her way to the frontline, meeting Tom Dunn who found her an abandoned cottage where she stayed each night to avoid detection. She eventually handed herself in and was taken back to the UK for interrogation under suspicion of being a spy.
The War Office largely censored Lawrence’s accounts of her experiences and she died in an asylum, largely forgotten. However, her bravery and story was later recognised in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.
Helen Sharman, Astronaut and chemist (May 30, 1963 – present)
In 1991, Helen Sharman became the first British Astronaut when she launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft – she was also the first woman to visit the Mir space station.
She studied for a BSc and a PhD in Chemistry before working as a chemist. One day she responded to a radio advertisement asking for volunteers to be the first British Astronaut.
Helen was chosen for the mission, beating off competition from almost 13,000 other applicants. She was just 27 years old, making her one of youngest people to have ever visited space.
Rosalind Franklin, Scientist (July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958)
In 1951, after studying at Cambridge and earning a PhD in physical chemistry, Rosalind Franklin became a research associate at King’s College in London. She learned crystallography and X-ray diffraction, techniques that she applied to DNA fibres. She refined that machine that took ‘Photograph 51’ – a famous image which provided key insights into the structure of DNA structure and would eventually lead to the discovery of the double helix. Other scientists took credit for the discovery and used it as evidence to support their own DNA models.
Later in her life she helped laid the foundations for scientists to understand how viruses infect people.
Charlotte Cooper, Olympian (September 22, 1870 – October 10, 1966)
Charlotte Cooper was one of the first-ever female Olympians and the first to win an individual gold, winning the tennis title in 1900. She won 5 Wimbledon singles titles, her final one at the age of 37 in 1908, 6 mixed-doubles titles and is one of only 4 women to do so after having a child.
Incredibly, she achieved much of this after losing her hearing at 26 and only ever used two racquets – a good one for when the weather was clear and an old one for matches in the rain.
Are there any women whose achievements need to be celebrated more? Let us know in the comments!