International Women’s Day: Five Forgotten Women You Need to Know About

international women's day
Women on strike in 1917

March 8 marks International Women’s Day. It is a significant time to look back on some of the most influential women in our history. International Women’s Day strives to show us that women deserve equal rights as their male counterparts, such as the right to vote. Over the years, there have been many prominent women who fought for equal rights. There have also been some who may have been forgotten through time. For International Women’s Day, we are looking at these five women who should be recognized for their spirit and their tenacity.

Agent 355: This woman was considered to be one of the first female espionages and, who quite possibly, helped General Washington win the Revolutionary War, which would then lead to America’s independence. According to the exhibition The Untold Stories of Women in Espionage, Agent 355 was part of the Culper Ring, and eventually helped lead to the arrest of Major John Andre, who had papers that connected Benedict Arnold to treason against the United States. Andre was hanged for his actions, and while Agent 355 remains a mystery, her work helped the country get closer to eventual independence.

international women's day
The Grimke sisters

Angelina and Sarah Grimke: If one were to voice their disgust over slavery in the South during the 1800s, they would have been banished. That didn’t stop sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimke from becoming fierce abolitionists and speaking out against slavery. As children growing up on a plantation in South Carolina, Sarah, the oldest, witnessed firsthand how slaves were horribly treated. When Angelina was born, Sarah instilled in her sister that slavery was inhumane. After their father’s death, they became Quakers, moved to Philadelphia, and spoke out. This was an important factor, because women were not looked upon to having their opinions heard, especially not about controversial topics such as slavery. But the Grimke sisters kept speaking out for emancipation and were not afraid.

international women's day
Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler: During World War II, Jewish people were targeted, and Adolf Hitler went to great lengths to put them all to death. Sendler was a Polish nurse who went into the Warsaw Ghetto, where Hitler corralled the Jewish people, and help smuggle over 2,500 Jewish children out of the country. She worked in the children’s section of a resistant group Zegota, falsifying their documents and thus saving them from the terror of the Holocaust. She even managed to escape her execution, lived through the war, and is now commemorated on a Polish coin as Righteous among the Nations.


international women's day
Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin: While there have been strides in showcasing the accomplishments of women working in the science field, there were many times where they weren’t even mentioned when the Nobel Prize was handed out. Franklin was one of the many women who should have been named Nobel Prize winner. After studying in Paris on X-ray diffractions, the London-born Franklin went back to England at King’s College, and worked on studying DNA. She would eventually figure out how to build the structure of DNA with Photo 51, but her colleague, who thought she was a research assistant, gave her information to two other researchers, and they put their information together with hers, and published their study using her work. Franklin did publish her findings also, but unfortunately, she did not get any credit whatsoever. She died four years before the Nobel Prize was given out, and they do not award posthumously, so Franklin will never get the proper credit she deserves.

international women's day
Clara Lemlich

Clara Lemlich: As a young Jewish girl in the Ukraine, Lemlich was not allowed to go to school because of her ethnicity. This made her parents forbid anything Russian in the house; Lemlich secretly studied Russian and hid books of Tolstoy away from them. Her headstrong ways would eventually show when her family immigrated to the United States in 1905. Lemlich worked as a seamstress, and was quickly angered by the conditions she and other women had to endure, so she organized the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and would lead strikes. The male workers did not think women could go on a major strike, but they were proved wrong when Lemlich went to the New York Cooper Union and suggested going on strike. Over 30,000 female garment workers went on strike, and many more across the country joined them between 1909 and 1915, striking for women’s rights. In the end, negotiators did not do much to improve working conditions, but Lemlich did prove that anything is possible.

This is just a small sampling of the many women who have been a huge impact on history, and yet have been hidden in the shadows. For International Women’s Day and beyond, let us learn more about the sacrifices women made so that our generation and generations to come will be able to keep the progress going.

By Renayle Fink

National Park Service

National Women’s History Museum

Jewish Virtual Library

National Geographic

Jewish Women’s Archive

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