Top 5 Women Ahead of their Time

Today is International Women’s Day, so let’s celebrate women’s achievements by better understanding how they changed the world. Brave and bold women have played a part in changing history for the women who came after them, and today, they are the reason young women can dream big and feel able to follow those dreams. Teen Breathe has recognised some of these amazing women in the Special edition “Inspiring Women” – here are just a few of them in our Top 5 Women Ahead of their Time:

1 One of the earliest recorded pioneers was also one of the greatest philosophers of ancient times. Hypatia, the daughter of Theon of Alexandria (a Greek scholar and forward-thinking mathematician), had a privileged upbringing and was one of the first women to study mathematics, science, astronomy and philosophy. She even managed to rise to the position of a well-respected academic at a time when it was very much a man’s world. Her beauty equalled her intelligence, but Hypatia decided not to marry, devoting herself to learning and teaching. Today, she is a symbol of intellectual freedom and regarded as a precursor to the feminist movement.

2 Victoria Woodhull’s life, on the other hand, wasn’t so promising, being born to an illiterate mother and a petty criminal father, and receiving hardly any education at all. However, she went from being a clairvoyant to the first female stockbroker on New York’s Wall Street, followed by stints as a newspaper publisher and a women’s rights leader, before becoming the first American woman to run for president in 1872 – nearly 50 years before she would have been able to vote herself. Needless to say, she caused much controversy at a time when women were banned from speaking in public, and was notably depicted as Mrs Satan. Victoria even spent Election Day in jail. Her story is one of adversity and rebellion and she paved the way for our next inspiring woman…

3 Fast forward 100 years, and in 1972 the first African-American to run for president was Shirley Anita Chisholm. Originally a nursery school teacher, she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress. Her name may have been largely forgotten, nevertheless she changed the face of American politics – though not without facing some challenges. Shirley escaped assassination attempts and had to sue to participate in television debates. She was known for being bold and had to break down gender, as well as racial, barriers. Her campaign slogan for Congress – ‘unbought and unbossed’ – represents best who she really was, and Shirley’s accomplishments undoubtedly led to greater representation of women and minorities in today’s political world.

4 Another trailblazer but in an entirely different domain, American Kathrine Switzer entered the Boston Marathon 50 years ago despite the fact women were not allowed to officially compete – as they were considered too ‘fragile’ for long-distance running. She was insulted and even attacked by one official who tried to remove her bib number, and was eventually disqualified even though she reached the finishing line. This, however, sparked a clamour for equality and five years later in 1972, the Boston Marathon finally allowed women to enter, and in 1984 this was followed by women being able to participate in the Olympic Games’ long-distance races and marathons.

5 Who would have thought that wearing trousers was once a rebellious gesture? In the 1930s, a time when women could be arrested if they wore them in public, Hollywood icon Katharine Hepburn did just that. Despite the pressure to conform to traditional movie roles for women, she challenged the norm and was not afraid to show her ‘masculine’ style, as well as her headstrong personality.

From her first screen appearance in 1932, when she achieved stardom almost overnight aged 24, to her last in 1994, Katharine had a six-decade long, prolific career – although it was not without its controversy. Her sense of style was one thing, but her no-nonsense attitude was another. A free spirit, she famously once said, ‘If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.’

Self-assured and stubborn, Katharine refused to play the PR game, insisting on doing her own stunts, wearing trousers in private and (shockingly) in public, and choosing not to wear make-up. She was like nobody else, and her differences made her a star – as well as an outcast. Her behaviour was criticised in the press and, at one point labelled a ‘box office poison’, she had to fight hard to win the critics over and be accepted by the industry.

She finally became one of the most enduring legends in cinema history, still holding the record for most Oscars received by any actor. And there’s been no one like her since. Eccentric and unconventional, confident and outspoken, Katharine Hepburn was a movie star ahead of her time as she pioneered the image of a strong, modern, independent woman.

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