Women of Achievement Month
Successful women make their mark in fields from computers, journalism, labor and racing
By Eliana Osborn
There are strong, amazing women in America who find a way to stand out by using whatever skills they have. Spend some time learning about some of the lesser-known female heroes.
In 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod—a 1,049-mile sled dog race across the roadless wilds of Alaska in the middle of winter. Other women, including Susan Butcher and Dee Dee Jonrowe, have continued to show that women can excel in this grueling race. Ms. Jonrowe is especially notable because she raced right after finishing chemotherapy.
Riddles had been mushing for seven years by the time she won the Iditarod. Her win made her instantly famous and celebrated by women’s magazines and organizations around the world. She’s written three books, including one for kids, and continues to raise sled dogs in Homer, Alaska.
The agricultural organizing work of the 1960s is often thought of in terms of one man, Cesar Chavez. But as a cofounder of the United Farm Workers, Dolores Huerta played a vital role in bringing the plight of migrant farmworkers to national attention.
Born in New Mexico, but raised in the central valley of California, Huerta worked as a teacher and saw the poor living conditions that her students faced. She started an association to lobby for the agricultural workers in her area, focusing on issues of immigration, fair wages, and discrimination.
Though she is no longer a union organizer at age 83, Huerta was recently inducted into the California Hall of Fame. She is involved in a variety of social justice issues and continues to fight for those whose voices may not be heard.
Ms. Ling and her fellow journalist, Euna Lee, were filming a documentary on the border of North Korea when they were arrested in 2009. They were interrogated and convicted of illegally entering the country, then sentenced to twelve years hard labor. In the midst of such a terrifying situation, Ling was sometimes able to telephone her sister Lisa Ling in the United States, and tell her the only way the Americans would be able to be released: if Bill Clinton would come to North Korea and meet with the dictator.
Ling’s story has a happy ending, as President Clinton did come to North Korea so that the journalists would be freed. She came home, after living in fear and eating rice riddled with rocks in prison, for 140 days. She says that she is a changed person, less focused on work and with a greater appreciation for every moment of life.
Ms. Mayer is not only CEO of the massive company, Yahoo!, she’s also a mom. She studied computer science in college, despite the fact that it was a male-dominated field, and then worked at Google for twelve years. Now, at 38, she’s head of Yahoo! and working with websites that millions of Americans use every day, like Flickr and Tumblr.
Ms. Mayer became CEO while she was pregnant, and continues to run the company while also raising a new baby. She’s certainly got resources that most people can only dream of, but she’s a great example of a woman finding success on her own terms.
Look at what life was like for women during another time period. Focus on Eleanor Roosevelt, and contrast her activities with those of modern women.
Use this quiz about historically significant women to see how much your class already knows. You may be surprised at some of the areas where unsung female heroes have made a difference.