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100 Years Of Inspirational Women

There are too many amazing, revolutionary and inspirational women throughout history to possibly write about, but we wanted to highlight some inspirational women in history as part of our celebration of International Women’s Day.

We love to represent all women in our our clothing, so talking about our favourite females from the last 100 years is all a part of the representation work we do.

What is International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is an international day that is celebrated every year across the world. It was created to commemorate the women in the world, both historical and present and bring awareness to the issues that they face, the progress that they’ve made, and their incredible achievements.

When is International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8th. The IWD community comes up with International Women’s Day ideas every year to help you celebrate, either as a woman yourself or as a company or group.

Highlighting inspirational women in history

Here are some of our favourite inspirational women from the team here at Klass – spanning across the last 100 years, these women have pushed progress for women and helped to highlight the issues they face and come up with solutions that we all should recognise.

1920's - Emmeline Pankhurst

It was this militant group that was the beginning of the Suffragettes and their extreme demonstration techniques gained them a lot of publicity.

Emmeline Pankhurst was born in 1858 in Manchester, to a family with radical political views. She founded the ‘Women's Franchise League’ in 1889. The purpose of this club was to fight for women's rights to vote in local elections - something that was previously unheard of in England. Then, in 1903, she went on to become a founder of the ‘Women's Social and Political Union’.

From arson and smashing windows to hunger strikes, these women were putting their lives on the line for their cause. Emmeline was arrested multiple times and even force-fed for a time when she went on a hunger strike. It was these strikes that led to the Cat and Mouse Act which allowed starving imprisoned protesters to be released until they were strong again and then they were re-arrested.

She passed away in 1928, shortly after equal voting rights came into play for men and women.

How Emmeline Pankhurst inspires us

Because of the sacrifices the Suffragettes made, women in the United Kingdom have the freedom to vote. Emmeline inspires us to never give up. Her continued efforts saw her reach her goals and live to see the change she fought for.

1930's - Maria Montessori

Maria is an Italian physician who is best known for creating a new system of education which focused more on the science of child development. Once she had graduated university with honours, she went into a career in psychiatry. However, after immersing herself in educational theory, she began to question the methods of teaching children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 1900 she was appointed the co-director of a new training institute for special education. She approached the role from a scientific standpoint and did experiments to see what kind of learning was most beneficial for the children.

The children made progress and the whole programme was deemed a success. In 1907, she was tasked with opening a full-day childcare centre in a poor district of Rome. At first, the children were rowdy but they soon started to enjoy and learn from the various puzzles and materials that Maria had sourced for them. To everyone’s surprise, the children flourished and Maria’s teaching methods caught the eye of prominent educators, journalists and public figures.

By 1910, Montessori schools were opened across Western Europe and would soon move over to the United States where the first facility was opened in 1917. Maria’s methods are still used to this day in schools around the world and make it easier for children with special needs to get the education they deserve.

How Maria Montessori inspires us

Maria’s story inspires us to always trust out gut when our methods are questioned. If Maria did not take her time and experiment with different techniques, children around the world would not receive the quality of education that they do today.

1940's - Irene Sendler

Born February 15th 1910, Irena Sendler was a polish humanitarian and social worker who bravely worked to save hundreds of Jewish children during World War 2. At the time the war broke out, Sendler was a social worker based in Warsaw. After the German occupation, the department that she worked in continued to look after the welfare of the children of Warsaw. She exploited her contacts at the department to gain access to a closed off area of the Warsaw ghetto where thousands of Jewish families had been forced to live.

She gained access to the ghetto by telling officials she needed to inspect the living conditions of the children. She used this to gain entry and help the families escape. Working with other activists, she would set up hiding places for the children outside of the border and even help send them to orphanages where they would be safe. In 1943, Sedler was arrested and taken to the notorious Pawiak Prison.

She was sentenced to death, however, underground activists managed to bribe officials to release her. This close encounter with the law did not stop her from continuing her work and she carried on helping those in need. This led her to go into hiding and ultimately, miss her mother's funeral as she could not be seen in public. Because of Irena Sendler and her partners, over 2500 Jewish children were saved.

How Irene Sendler inspires us

Irena’s amazing story of bravery inspires us to always strive to do what is right, no matter the cost.

1950's Rosalind Franklin

Born in Notting Hill in 1920, Rosaline Franklin was a Chemist and X-ray Crystallographer who played a crucial part in understanding the structures of DNA. Her work was almost ignored until after she passed away, although it is known that her research played a large part in our understanding of DNA structures. She is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix for which three male scientists won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962.

It was suggested by one of the winners that Rosalind would have been considered but the awarding body did not usually make posthumous nominations. Instead, her coworker, Aaron Klug, continued her research after she died in 1958, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize for Chemistry in 1982..

How Rosalind Franklin inspires us

The ignorance that Rosalind’s research faced while she was alive inspires us to always trust in ourselves. Just because something you do is not celebrated right away does not mean you should give up. Keep going and you could make a real difference.

1960's - Rosa Parks

Born February 4th, 1913, in Alabama, Rosa McCauley was raised by her mother and grandparents on Edwards Farm. Both of her grandparents were former slaves and were strong advocates for racial equality. In her early life, she experienced discrimination firsthand and was enrolled in segregated schools to gain her education. African American children were forced to walk to school, while the city council provided school buses and a new school building for white children. In 1932, she met and married Raymond Parks.

Raymond supported her in gaining her high school diploma and was an active member of the NAACP. In 1955, Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white man while travelling on a bus. She later recalled that her refusal wasn’t because she was physically tired, she was tired of giving in. Rosa took her seat in one of the ‘designated’ seats at the back of the bus. However, bus drivers had ‘the authority of police officers’ while travelling but were required to provide equal seating opportunities for all passengers.

Rosa was arrested for refusing to move but was later released on bail the same evening. On the day of her trial, the African American community of Montgomery boycotted the bus system in protest. This extended for 381 days before the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public transport was unconstitutional.

How Rosa Parks inspires us

Rosa is a prime example of always standing up for yourself and what you believe in. Injustice happens all over the world and if you believe in something, fight for it. Your voice could be the one that makes all the difference.

1970's - Pam Grier

Pamela Grier was born in the United States in 1949. She is known for being a prominent actress in a genre of films which portrayed African American characters as heroes and main characters rather than the stereotypical sidekick and villain roles that mainstream cinema offered.

Quentin Tarantino has been quoted as saying that she is the ‘first female action star’ as she is noted for doing many her own stunts while filming. She was cast as the titular role in his 1997 crime thriller, Jackie Brown. She founded the Pam Grier Community Garden and Education Centre with the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum.

How Pam Grier inspires us

Pam Grier inspires us to know our own strengths. We are all strong in our own way and we should recognise this within ourselves.

1980's - Oprah Winfrey

Born into poverty in Mississippi in the 1950s. She was assaulted as a child which resulted in her giving birth to a son at the age of 14. Her son was born prematurely and later died in infancy. She was then sent to live with her father in Tennessee where she joined her high school radio station. By the time she was 19, she was co-anchor of her local news channel. Her compassionate and emotional approach to broadcasting was adored by viewers and she soon moved over to daytime TV. She had her own TV show which revolutionised the daytime TV genre by inviting LGBT guests on for interviews..

This had previously been taboo. She syndicated her show and became a millionaire by the age of 32.

In 1998, Oprah created the Angel Network.

TThis charity supported and offered grants to non-profit organisations all over the world. The charity raised over $80,000,000 for its causes and as Oprah funded all administration costs, all the money raised went directly to those who needed it. After Hurricane Katrina, Oprah opened the Angel Network Katrina which raised $11,000,000 for those affected by this disaster. In 2004, she was the first African American person to rank among the 40 most generous Americans and by 2012 she had donated over $400,000,000 to educational causes.

To celebrate over 2 decades on national television, Oprah took her employees and their families (1065 people) on holiday to Hawaii. She has given over 400 scholarships to the Morehouse College in Atlanta and donated $12 million to the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture.

How Oprah Winfrey inspires us

Oprah is such an amazing example of not to let your past define you. Just because something starts bad, it does not mean to say it won't end positively.

1990's - Diana Spencer

Born on 1st July 1961, Diana Spencer was born into British nobility and grew up close to the Royal Family on their Sandringham Estate. Diana rose to prominence when she got engaged to Prince Charles. However, it is her charity work and patronage, rather than her Princess status, that we find particularly inspiring.

Some of the causes close to Diana's heart were animal welfare, serious illnesses such as AIDS/HIV and helping the homeless and youth. Her work with AIDS charities began in the 1980s. She was known to hold hands and touch sufferers of the disease, even though it was largely misunderstood at the time and many people believed it could be contracted through touch. She worked very hard to remove the stigma attached to diseases such as Cancer, HIV and Leprosy.

Diana was a long-standing supporter of Centrepoint, a charity that provides accommodation and support to the homeless. She was a spokesperson for young homeless people saying that she believed they deserve a good start in life. She would take her young children to the charity and her eldest son William even became Patron of the charity later in his life.

How Diana Spencer inspires us

Princess Diana inspires us to be more compassionate.

2000's - Helena Morrissey

Born in Cheshire in 1966, Helena was raised by her parents who were both teachers. She studied Philosophy at University but moved into a career in banking once she graduated. She started her career at Schroders but after realising she had no opportunity for progression, moved on to become a Fixed Income Manager at Newton Investment Management.

She is an advocate for female CEOs and created the 30% club which campaigns for greater female representation on boards. She is a trustee of the Eve Appeal which raises money for gynaecological cancer and is a former chairperson for the Royal Academy of the Arts.

How Helena Morrissey inspires us

Helena inspires us to have the best of both worlds. You can have a family and a career and be a boss at both.

2010's Serena Williams

Born in September 1981, Serena Williams began playing tennis at the age of 4 years old. She is known for being the best female tennis player alive after being ranked 1st in the world on 8 separate occasions and winning 23 grand slam titles. She even won the Australian Open whilst 2 months pregnant.

Many sportspeople, commentators and coaches regard Williams as the greatest female tennis player of all time with her victories having a hugely positive influence on young tennis players. She is regarded as a role model for those wanting a tennis career. On December 29th 2019, she was named the Greatest Female Athlete of the Decade for the 2010s by the Associated Press.

Serena is a strong advocate for the Black Lives Matter campaign and uses her platform to spread awareness and fight for change. The NAACP honoured her with the President's Award at their annual awards ceremony.

How Serena Williams Inspired us

Serena inspires us to be the best we can be. If there is something you are good at, be the best at it.