Victoria Woodhull spent her adult life fighting for gender equality and showing the world what women can do. Born in 1838 in Ohio as Victoria Claflin, she married Canning Woodhull when she was only 15 in order to escape her family. It was an unhappy marriage that produced two children, and acted as the catalyst for her to become an advocate of free love. Woodhull’s philosophy was that an individual should be able to choose how long they stay with a partner and move on to another monogamous relationship when they want to. She divorced Canning, which in the 19th century meant ostracism for the ex-wife regardless of the quality of the marriage.
In 1868 Woodhull moved to New York, where she opened a salon where radicals would come and meet for intellectual discussions on social and philosophical issues. This is where she truly began making her voice heard. With 1870 came the partnership between Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee, to open the Woodhull, Claflin & Company brokerage house on Wall Street, one that became quite successful. Early that same year the sisters started Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, a weekly magazine that ran for six years. It touched on women’s issues, radical and taboo topics (sex, labour reforms, licensed prostitution), and showed that a woman could balance marriage, motherhood, and work with grace. In 1872 Woodhull ran for president with the Equal rights party, becoming the first woman not only to start a firm on Wall Street as well as a newspaper, but also the first woman to run for president.
Born in England in 1821 to a family that would become prominent in the social activism world, Elizabeth Blackwell went on to become the first woman in America to obtain a medical degree. In 1832 her family moved to Ohio, where she took up teaching as an adult. Wanting to learn medicine but being discriminated against as a woman, she learned from two families of physicians that she boarded with while teaching. In 1847 she applied for entrance into medical schools but was rejected by them all, with the exception of Geneva College in New York. Even there, she had a difficult time obtaining a medical education. She was excluded from labs and forced to sit apart from the men during lectures. Nonetheless, she persevered, graduated with a degree in 1849, and began training in hospitals in London and Paris, appointed to midwifery and nursing.
Blackwell realized the importance of hygiene and preventative care; she noticed that male doctors did not wash their hands in between patients, and were part of the cause of disease epidemics. She began pushing for hygiene guidelines in medical care. Come 1857, after she had been living in New York once again, she opened an infirmary for women and children with her sister Emily and colleague, Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. The infirmary gave female physicians the opportunity for work, and was also where nurses were trained for the Union Army during the Civil War. She went on to open a medical college in New York City in 1868, helped establish the National Health Society, and in 1875 returned to London as a professor at the London School of Medicine for women.
The first female prime minister of Pakistan was born in 1953, the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Premier of Pakistan and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). She attended Harvard from 1969 to 1973, where she earned a BA in comparative government, then Oxford from 1973 to 1977 to study international law and diplomacy. After her father’s death in 1979, Bhutto became the new leader of the PPP. Two years later, in 1981, Bhutto officially created the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, or the MRD, which sought to bring together all political parties to institute a program that would end Pakistan’s martial law, restore the old 1973 constitution and parliamentary elections, as well as give political power to elected representatives instead of the military.
Bhutto ran for office in the 1988 elections and won 93 of 205 seats. She became the first female prime minister of a Muslim country, and the fourth in the world, as well as the youngest elected female prime minister. She was Pakistan’s second prime minister to be elected for a second term when she ran and won in 1993, holding office until 1996.
Years ago in 2012, when Malala was 15, the Taliban made an attempt on her life while she was on the bus ride from school, all because of her political activism. She was born in northwestern Pakistan in 1997 to a school owner concerned with and active in educational issues. She wrote for BBC in 2009 (she was just around 12 years old) detailing life under the Taliban in Swat Valley. During the Taliban occupation of Swat, they banned girls from seeking an education, women going shopping, television, and music. Her BBC blog shows what life was like in the First Battle of Swat, the operations, lowering class attendance, and closure of schools. After blowing up over one hundred girls’ schools, the Taliban declared that girls were no longer allowed to attend school. Yousafzai was approached about making a documentary once the BBC blog ended, which meant her identity was revealed but she could now publicly speak out about the right to education.
Yousafzai became the first Pakistani girl to be nominated for the international Children’s Peace Prize in October 2011, then in December she was awarded with Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize. She began planning an organization that would give poor girls access to education; the Malala Education Foundation. By the summer of 2012 the Taliban had decided to kill her, and made an attempt on her life on October 9. In critical condition, Yousafzai was treated in Peshawar then sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, where she remained in a coma until October 17. After her recovery she went on to give talks all over the world and had meetings with officials including Barack Obama. On her 18th birthday on 12 July 2015, Yousafzai opened a school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekka Valley by the Syrian border. She became the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize along with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian activist for children’s rights, becoming the second Pakistani and the youngest recipient of the prize.
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