Today women know that after the words “I am woman” are spoken it’s very likely, thanks to Helen Reddy, the following three inspirational words will follow: “hear me roar.” The Australian singer, actress and activist not only wrote and performed the now well known, "I Am Woman," which became the anthem to the second wave feminism, but also became a cultural and symbolic icon for the movement too.
Helen was practically born into show business; her father Max was an actor, writer and producer, and her mother, Stella, was a singer. Born in In 1941, just outside West Richmond, Victoria, Helen was performing at the age of 4. Later, Helen attended Tintern Girls Grammar School in Melbourne, Australia.
Helen toured with her family on the vaudeville circuit until she was 17. Then, somewhat surprisingly given what she later came to symbolize, Helen decided to get married, become a stay at home mom and leave show business behind. However, shortly after their daughter Traci was born in 1963, the couple divorced and Helen returned to show business as a single mother seeking a way to support herself and her young daughter.
Making Her Move
After winning a competition on Bandstand, an Australian television show, Helen believed her prize included tickets to the United States and a recording contract with Mercury Records in New York City; however, this was not accurate. Her award was the tickets and a chance to audition for a record contract. Despite this, Helen decided to stay in the U.S. with her daughter.
Without a U.S. work visa though, Helen found earning money challenging in the States. Due to this, she frequently crossed the border to Canada for performances so she could earn enough to live. In 1968, her friend organized a party to help Helen pay rent. Guests paid to get in the shindig and Helen performed. It was at this party where Helen met her second husband and future manager, Jeff Wald. Three days after the party, Jeff and Helen were married.
Helen helped support the family with charity and lounge performances while still pursuing her own career. She recorded her first single, a cover of “One Way Ticket,” in 1968. The family moved to Los Angeles, and in 1971 Helen recorded her first hit, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, with Capitol Records.
In 1972 Helen’s career exploded when her single “I Am a Woman” reached the number 1 spot on Billboard Hot 100. Helen was the first native Australian to nab this prime spot in U.S. music charts. She co-wrote the hit song with Ray Burton and has been quoted saying that she was inspired by the women’s movement. The problem was, despite the women’s movement and the counterculture of the times, Helen reports that she didn’t hear any songs about strong women on the radio. In a 2003 interview with Australia’s Sunday Magazine, she explained that no songs seemed to exist that matched what she believed being a woman was all about.
“I thought about all these strong women in my family who had gotten through the Depression and world wars and drunken, abusive husbands. But there was nothing in music that reflected that. The only songs were 'I Feel Pretty' or that dreadful song 'Born A Woman'. (The 1966 hit by Sandy Posey had observed that if you're born a woman "you're born to be stepped on, lied to, cheated on and treated like dirt. I'm glad it happened that way".) These are not exactly empowering lyrics. I certainly never thought of myself as a songwriter, but it came down to having to do it," she said.
And, that she did. Helen remarked that she was surprised by the strong reaction to the song and how much it resonated with her audiences. Helen’s song not only earned a Grammy, but also came to represent the song, or anthem, for second-wave feminism. Additionally, the hit launched Helen’s career into the limelight. “I Am Woman” was just the first of 14 top 40 songs Helen would have in her career.
Later Years and Today
Helen and Jeff divorced in the mid 1980s. After a decades-long career in show business, Helen retired in 2002 and moved back to Australia where she studied clinical hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming. In 2012, Helen returned briefly to show business performing her biggest hits, but in 2015 she was diagnosed with dementia and retired for good. Today Helen lives in retirement community in California, but her illness did not stop her from once again being a part of an important women’s movement. Earlier this year, Helen joined more than 750,000 people in the 2017 Women’s March at the Los Angeles downtown march event where she performed a capella her still very relevant hit, “I Am Women.”
Mukai Chiaki was the first Japanese woman to go to space, and one of less than 60 women to ever share that privilege. As both an astronaut and surgeon, Mukai is an inspiration to young women breaking into the sciences.
Early Years and Education
Mukai was born in Tatebayashi, Gunma, Japan in 1952. Though Mukai grew up watching the space race happen, she did not have aspirations at that time to be an astronaut, but rather, she wanted to be a doctor. Her brother suffered from aseptic necrosis, a disease that caused his leg bones to be very brittle and caused difficulties when he walked. Mukai witnessed how her brother was teased and was determined to help others who suffered from illness. She also saw how much her brother improved with advanced medicine, which only made her more persistent in accomplishing her dream of going into medicine.
In 1977 she earned a doctorate in medicine and in 1988 she earned another doctorate in physiology; both degrees were awarded to Mukai from the Keiō University School of Medicine in Tokyo. A year later, in 1989, Mukai was board certified as a cardiovascular surgeon by the Japan Surgical Society.
Transitioning from Surgery to Space
Mukai accomplished her first goal by becoming a doctor at the age of 25. She went on to work as a heart surgeon and held a variety of positions at numerous hospitals. In 1983 she became chief resident in cardiovascular surgery at Keio University Hospital and she earned the title of assistant professor of the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery at the university.
Just three years later, Mukai’s career would become entangled with space. In 1985 Mukai was just one of three payload specialist selected by the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) for the ST-47/Spacelab-J mission; however it wasn’t until nine years later that she first flew into space on board the Columbia on the 15-day STS-65 mission where she helped conduct scientific and medical experiments.
While working with the NASDA, Mukai became a visiting scientist in the Cardiovascular Physiology Division of the Space and Biomedical Research Institute at NASA Johnson Space Center from 1987 to 1988. And, from 1992 to 1988 she worked at as a research instructor at the Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston as well as a visiting professor professor in the Department of Surgery at the Keio University School of Medicine.
In 1998 Mukai hit another milestone - she became the first Japanese citizen to fly twice in space. As a payroll specialist onboard the Discovery space shuttle on the STS-95 mission, Mukai flew onboard with U.S. Senator John Glenn, who was the first man to ever orbit the earth in 1962. On their mission together in 1998, Glenn, age 77, became the oldest person to ever fly in space. During the mission, Mukai helped conduct medical, material and aging research, of which Glenn was a test subject for.
Since then Mukai has gone on to teach at the International Space University, serve as the Director of Space Biomedical Research office, advice the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and become the director of the Applied Space Science Research for JAXA. In 2015 she became Vice President of the Tokyo University of Science.
An Ongoing Influence
Mukai is an inspiration to women in the sciences and continues to influence the industry. She has shared her dreams and success by working in education and motivating others to chase their goals. She once wrote that she’s very thankful to those who encouraged her in pursuing her ambitions.“And, I strongly believe that education enables us to envision and pursue our dreams,” she wrote.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was not only a writer, but a champion of women’s independence and reform. A major theorist in the women’s movement in the U.S., Gilman used her short stories, poetry, nonfiction and lectures in social reform, ethics and feminism to make a difference.
In the Beginning
Charlotte’s childhood was not the easiest. She was born in Hartford, Connecticut on July 3, 1860 to Mary Perkins and Frederic Beecher Perkins, but her father wasn’t in the picture for long. Early on, Frederic abandoned his family: Mary, Charlotte, and Charlotte’s brother, Thomas. Frederic’s abandonment left his family impoverished. In turn, during her childhood, Charlotte’s family was forced to move frequently just to make ends. This lack of a consistent environment impacted Charlotte’s education and friendships growing up.
In fact, Charlotte went through seven different schools and was never noted as a particularly good student; however, her teachers did note that Charlotte’s innate intelligence and the scope of knowledge were remarkable. This lead Charlotte to enroll in several courses at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1970s. It was during this time that Charlotte became more interested in creative pursuits, including painting and writing.
Adulthood: Marriage and Creative Pursuits
In 1884, Charlotte married a fellow artist, Charles Stetson, and the two had one daughter, Katherine. Charlotte and Charles were married for a decade, a time period that Charlotte spent a good portion of in depression. During this this time, Charlotte experienced a nervous breakdown and underwent odd treatments for her melancholy and desolation. In turn, her experiences inspired her most well-known work, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which she published in the Feminist Press in 1892.
The short story details a woman who was suffered a mental episode after being emotionally deprived by her husband. The woman is stuck in a small room and becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper. The story illustrates how the woman is forced to “rest” and do only as her doctor and husband insist in the story, which leads her to become obsessed with the room’s yellow wallpaper. This prescriptive treatment completely forbids the character from any independence proves to be greatly destructive to her mental health. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte showcased women’s lack of autonomy, and the great need for it, in society.
Charlotte went onto lecture about labor, ethics and the woman’s place in society in the 1890s. In 1898, she wrote Women in Economics, a nonfiction--frequently referred to as a manifesto and even used as a textbook--where she argued the case and need for women to have greater independence in economics. And, in 1909, Charlotte began a feminist magazine called Frontrunner, which she published and edited women’s issues and social reform articles. Additionally, Charlotte helped found the Women’s Peace Party in 1915 along with Jane Addams.
Death and Legacy
After suffering from breast cancer and going through ineffective treatments, Charlotte committed suicide in 1935. Her writings, though somewhat controversial at times, helped introduce feminist ideas and argued that women could do more than bare and raise children. Charlotte’s efforts assisted in leading the women’s movement and changing the way that women were not only viewed in society, but also laying the groundwork for the roles that women could, and would come, to play.
Mary Mahoney - First Professional African American Woman Nurse in the U.S. & Civil and Women's Rights Activist
Mary Mahoney became the first African American woman to complete nursing school in the United States. She not only dedicated her career toward helping others in a medical sense, but used her civility, expertise and empathy to raise workplace standards for minorities, dissolve discrimination and encourage an atmosphere of equality.
Born in 1845 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, Mary was the oldest of three children. Her parents were freed slaves who moved north from North Carolina before the Civil War to escape discrimination, which is something Mary would continue to fight against throughout her life.
Even in her adolescence, Mary knew she wanted to become a nurse. She spent 15 years working on New England Hospital for Women and Children until she was finally accepted into the hospital’s nursing school in 1878. After the rigid 16-month training curriculum, Mary graduated and became the first black woman to complete such a program in the U.S.
Working as a private care nurse among predominantly wealthy, white families, Mary’s professionalism and skill helped raise the status of minority nurses. Through preparedness, competence and know-how, Mary was able to distinguish herself, break down bridges and build relationships in the communities in which she served.
A Career and Life Full of Fighting for Right
Throughout her career, Mary made strides for women and minorities. She was inducted as one of the first African American members to the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada, which is now known as the American Nurses Association. Additionally, Mary founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908. As the NACGN’s first annual convention, Mary spoke about the goals of the group, which included eliminating prejudice and applauding outstanding minority nurses and their contributions to the field.
And, it wasn’t just in medicine that Mary made her presence known. In 1920, following the ratification of the 19th amendment for women’s suffrage, Mary was the first woman in Boston to register to vote.
Later Life and Lasting Contributions
Mary finished her nursing career on Long Island, New York, working as the director of the Howard Orphan Asylum, which offered a home to African American children and elderly.
In 1926, at the age of 80, Mary passed away, but even many years after her death, Mary’s contributions still carry weight today. In 1936, the NACGN named an award after Mary, and in 1951, the NACGN merged with the American Nurses Association - eliminating a division in races that Mary spent much of her life fighting for. In honor of her lasting contributions, the award continues to be given out to nurses for their work in advancing equality in the field.
Mary’s true professionalism, compassion and relentless strive for equality throughout her life earned her a well deserved spot in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
Dorothea Lange’s ability to capture, and humanize, the hardship and struggles during the American Great Depression, made a lasting impact in the field of photojournalism and documentary photography. Furthermore, by capturing what she saw, and sharing it, others were able to not only see, but empathize with trials of the time.
Born in 1895 as Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn in Hoboken New Jersey, Dorothea was raised by parents who placed value on education and creativity. Her father was a lawyer and her mother stayed at home to raise Dorothea and her brother, Martin. At the age of seven, Dorothea contracted Polio, which left her right side weakened for life. Though traumatic, Dorothea said the illness made a lasting impact on who she became as a woman. “It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,” Lange once said. The experience and its lasting impacts helped Lange empathize with those she photographed later in her live.
In her early teens, Dorothea’s parents divorced and resulted in a falling out that led Dorothea to drop her father’s last name and assume “Lange,” her mother’s maiden name. Lange graduated from a high school for girls and wen on to study photography at Columbia University. During this time, Dorothea took on apprenticeships with influential photographers, such as the esteemed Arnold Genthe, a portrait photographer, and took classes taught by Clarence Hudson White.
Making Career Strides
In 1918, Dorothea left New York for San Francisco where she opened up her own portrait studio. In 1920, she married painter Maynard Dixon, and the couple went on to have two sons, Daniel and John. With a tumultuous political economic climate, Dorothea stepped from inside her studio and took her camera outside.
She began by photographing events occurring on the streets around her - from strikes to breadlines. In fact, in 1933, her studies of the times led to White Angel Breadline, which showed a man turned away from a soup kitchen. Her photograph not only caught the attention of other photojournalists, but led to the beginning of Dorothea’s career with what eventually became the Federal Security Administration.
In 1935, Dorothea divorced Dixon and married Paul Taylor, a University of California at Berkeley professor of economics. Over the next half decade, the two traveled and documented poverty and hardship with Paul writing reports and Dorothea taking photos. During this time, Dorothea captured Migrant Mother, one of her most known works, which showcases the suffering and despair of a mother -- a feeling experienced by many Americans during the time.
Following her work’s truth and success, Dorothea Lange became the first to be awarded the Guggenheim fellowship in 1940.
Wartime and Later Years
The Office of War Information hired Dorothea to document the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. After the war, she co-founded Aperture, a photography magazine as well as shot photos for other while known publications such as Life magazine and traveled with her husband Paul to his work related assignments around the world. Though still very active, Dorothea’s health declined in the last two decades of her life, and in October 1985, she passed away of esophageal cancer.
Yet, still today, she Dorothea Lange continues to inspire photographers. Dorothea’s images, the truth they showcased and her empathy behind the lens not only made a lasting impact in the field of photography, but her approach and mentality also continues to live on in 21st century documentary and photojournalists.