The Hall of The Women
Welcome, dear reader, to
The Hall of Fame The Hall of The Women– the women who achieved great feats even in times when the odds were stacked against them. In the times when they were suppressed, they pressed on; in the times of disadvantage, they focused on advantage. So, get ready to be inspired! Get ready to dream bigger!! Get ready to be empowered!!! As you walk through the hallway of fame, open your minds to the various capabilities in you and possibilities through you. Make great use of this opportunity and gleam from their experiences. Now, it is time. Meet The Women.
The First Woman
Bettisia Gozzadini, a law graduate of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the world. She is thought to be the first woman, not only to ever attend university but also to lecture in one. She attended the university disguised as a man and taught her students with a veil – so as not to distract them with her beauty.
24 years after graduation, she died in a flood with some other casualties. On the day of her death, local legend says that all the schools in the city of Bologna were closed in mourning. Her presence was so missed in the city. And over 7 centuries later, she still remains remembered. So girls, even when the odds are against you, grab the bull by the horns and ride on it. You just might be surprised, a whole city would mourn your death.
If there was a 17th Century Supergirl, Anna Maria van Schurman would be the star (though already a star, the “Star of Utrecht”). She could pass as an all-rounder. Painting, paper-cutting, embroidery, woodcarving, calligraphy,…name it, she could do it… or learn it.
Take out her father and professors who contributed to her learning from age 4, Schurman had a knack for learning new things; it was intrinsic. She said, “I had to discover many things which nobody was able to teach me.” She learned embroidery in 3 hours! At the age of 10!! She learned calligraphy just by looking at a model book. Talk about talent! She was “immensely gifted by God in the arts,” would you not say?
Being excellent in Latin, she wrote a poem for the opening of the University of Utrecht which challenged the exclusion of females from education. On these grounds, Schurman was invited to study unofficially at the University of Utrecht: she was screened to prevent other students from seeing her. Here, she learned various additional languages and became fluent in 14.
She remained an advocate for female education in a time when this was non-existent. Hypothetically speaking, dear reader, if Schurman were to speak in order to motivate you to dream, that would most likely be:
“Damsels, empower thyself to be competent in whatever thou doest: competence opened the doors to education for me even in a time when this was next to impossible; competence would do even more for thee.”Translated to Contemporary English
The Teacher of Queens and more
Ever heard of Isabella I of Castille? Probably not. She and her husband (the Catholic Monarchs) sponsored the voyage of Christopher Columbus – the man who discovered the New World (the Americas). This launched the establishment of the modern nations of the Americas. In addition, their reign unified Spain as the nation we know today. She believed in the power of education. She was also strongly opposed to slavery and wars.
Now, take your attention to her teacher, La Latina. Well, not the place La Latina, but the woman after whom the place was named– Beatriz Galindo. Her skill in Latin offered her this nickname and the privilege of tutoring five queens – Queen Isabella I and her four daughters who would in due time become queens in themselves. From a destitute family to the Castilian court, Galindo did not let her background impede her progress.
From a young age, she was already seen as a book lover. Her family thought to send her to a nunnery. Instead, they let her continue her education for a time, before she took her vows. It is likely she learnt under Antonio de Nebrija (a great Spanish scholar). Sometime later, she was invited to teach the Queen Castille and her daughters. While in the Court, she taught vehemently humanism (a concept focused on human virtue, focused on balancing action and insight). This perhaps spurred Columbus and the growth of humanism in Spain.
Lesson learnt? Empowering yourself is a good feat. However, empowering (imparting the life of) others is a greater feat. What then have you done with all that you have learnt? Join the list of those she has imparted now— those who back up insight with action.
Now, meet the greatest of all time. No, not Messi,… Serena Williams. The G.O.A.T. of female tennis. Shattering all gender and racial stereotypes, she went on to bag 23 Grand Slam Titles in the 18 years of her career (Note, her first was obtained at age 17). To your surprise, winning wasn’t all to her story. Adding one more quote to one of her most quoted remarks:
“I don’t like to lose — at anything… yet I’ve grown most not from victories, but setbacks. If winning is God’s reward, then losing is how He teaches us.”
So then, instead of dreading failure, start to see them as setbacks which you can overcome and learn from. Everyone will fail at one point or the other; what makes a difference is that you rise. And while you are at it, do not forget to learn from the fall.
“I have tried 99 times and have failed, but on the 100th time came success.”Albert Einstein
“I did not fail, I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”Thomas Edison
The Change maker
Well, being different sometimes is hard, but having to fight for change can even be harder. Say hello to Greta Thunberg who sees her being different as a superpower. Using this superpower, she fights for global change in the battle against climate change. Rather than concealing her medical condition, she views it in a different light; rather than be discouraged by anonymous critics, she remains magnanimous while opposing them. Despite her autism, she has credit for changing the views of millions about climate change and inspiring those with a similar disease as hers.
Learning from Thunberg, we see that one can make a difference even when one is different. Sure, that tendency exists to cover up your flaws just to feel included, but Thunberg is here to tell you: “Being different is a superpower.” Embrace your uniqueness; utilise it for change.
Oh oh, looks like Thunberg is not the only young lady fighting for change. Meet Malala Yousafzia who won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17! Rewind 6 years before, when Yousafzia spoke publicly against the Taliban Local Government for denying her the right to education. From then on, she has fought for the education of young girls in Pakistan and beyond, even to the point of facing death.
Like Thunberg, her friend, Yousafzia teaches that one can (and should!) stand up for what is right and what is one’s right. This lesson goes for little ones too! Age is not a hindrance to influence.
Speaking of Nobel Prizes, it sure would be a shame not to mention Marie Curie, the woman with many firsts: the first person to win or share two Nobel Prizes; the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the only to win a Nobel Prize twice and in two sciences; and the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Paris Panthéon. Yet, she says:
“I am going to give up the little gold I possess. I shall add to this the scientific medals, which are quite useless to me. There is something else: by sheer laziness, I had allowed the money for my second Nobel Prize to remain in Stockholm in Swedish crowns. This is the chief part of what we possess. I should like to bring it back here and invest it in war loans. The state needs it. Only, I have no illusions: this money will probably be lost.”During World War I
This great woman would rather contribute her quota to the war than stay idle. In addition, she manufactured and used X-ray units to treat hundreds of injured soldiers from the war. However, she got no formal recognition from the French Government, though she required none of it. After the war, under her leadership, four individuals in her institute, including her daughter and son-in-law, won Nobel Prizes. A family of Nobel Prize winners, right?
At least a decade before the war, she and her husband expounded on the concept of radioactivity, challenging the then norm that “atom was neither created nor destroyed”. Their discovery of the decay of radium, uranium and polonium went on to change the course of science history. Moreover, this lovely pair had no desire for fame or money. It took them 3 years to finally accept the Nobel Prize and they did not even patent their discovery. She, and her husband, saw no need for fame and wealth. Even Albert Einstein once remarked of her:
“Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted.”After her death
Take home points? Always look for ways to impart humanity. This should not come with the expectation of rewards; because, if the rewards do not come, you just might lose your motivation. And lest I forget, do not let fame get into your head, for:
Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
The Last Woman
Phew, the last but not the least, our very own Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. From being the first woman to hold two ministerial positions in Nigeria, to being the first female and first African as a Director-General of the World Trade Organisation(WTO), she has achieved great feats “despite being a woman”. Her prowess in finance has offered her influential positions in various organisations, and this has not gone unnoticed. For one, she has been listed among the Top 3 Most Powerful Women in Africa (Forbes List, 2012).
She graduated magna cum laude (Latin for with great honour) with a degree in Economics from Harvard University, United States of America and later earned a PhD in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has received honorary degrees from 21 universities across the world and has authored several books. Perhaps, the key to her success lies in her education or, more importantly, in her mindset. She believes that women should be empowered and also be in power.
Her story breaks the status quo and gives hope to the “minority” out there that they can do just that.
Departing the Hall
Having met with The Women, are you now off to win Nobel Prizes, or perhaps be the first at something, or fight for a pertinent cause? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps, seeing these women (and some ladies) from different times and places, facing different challenges, paving their paths to success, freedom and impact gives you elevated ground to pave your path. A path to The Hall of…?
Written by Henry
For the Editorial Team, God is Love Educational Foundation