International Women’s Day 2022: Trailblazers Who Have Made History and Pressed for Progress

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Monday marks International Women’s Day, an annual commemoration of women, civil awareness, anti-sexism and anti-discrimination.

The day’s campaign theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. 

“Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead,” International Women’s Day Website says. “Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough. Action is needed to level the playing field.”

The day is one of the most important days of the year to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about women’s equality, lobby for accelerated gender parity and fundraise for female-focused charities, the site says. 

The first National Women’s Day was celebrated on Feb. 28, 1909 and was designated by the Socialist Party of America to honor women in New York’s garment industry who went on strike in protest of the working conditions they faced, according to the United Nations. 

In Copenhagen, the next year, activists and political women from around the globe gathered. There, they approved of creating an international day for women. That day was observed the following year by several countries in Europe on March 19. In 1975, the UN officially recognized International Women’s Day. 

In honor of the ongoing fight for equality taking place across the country and the world at large, here’s a look at some of the women who have blazed a trail when there was no path to follow. 

Cathay Williams

U.S. Army

Born to a free man and an enslaved woman, Cathay Williams went on to pose as a man to enlist in the Army, becoming the first black woman to enlist in the military.

On Nov. 15, 1866, Williams used the name William Cathay to enlist. Officials stated that she told her recruiter that she was 22 years old and a cook. She was assigned the 38th U.S. Infantry, and she traveled the West with the unit.

She settled in Trinidad, Colo., where she worked as a seamstress and may have also owned a boarding house. 

Williams died in 1893 and in 2018, the Private Cathay Williams monument bench was unveiled on the Walk of Honor at the National Infantry Museum.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, as well as Lucy Stone

Library of Congress; Getty Library of Congress

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Suzanne B. Anthony), and Lucy Stone were some of the many women who fought to have the legal right for voting in the U.S. 

Stanton, Anthony and Stone headed the one of the two national women’s suffrage groups established in 1869. After many years of rivalry, they were merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 with Anthony as its leader.

The trio and other suffragists fighting for the right to vote made several attempts to cast ballots in the early 1870’s, and then filed lawsuits when they were turned away.

American women were given the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Aug. 18, 1920.

Annie Oakley 

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Annie Oakley challenged the stereotypes of what it meant to be a woman from the beginning of her career.  

Born Phoebe Ann Mosey, Oakley was just 15 years old when on Thanksgiving Day 1875 she won a shooting match against traveling-show marksman Frank E. Butler. She would go on to become one of America’s most famous sharpshooters — and marry Butler — while championing equal rights.

“She wouldn’t have said she was a feminist, but there’s a difference between being avowed and actually doing it,”Glenda Riley, a professor of history at Ball State University, Muncie, Ind., spoke to the Chicago Tribune. 

Oakley “campaign[ed] for equal pay for women,”Riley stated. “She also taught women how to shoot and had a partnership marriage with her husband, Frank Butler, who gave up his career in show business to become her manager.”

Amelia Earhart

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Amelia Earhart also challenged preconceived notions of femininity and womanhood by becoming the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

She was awarded the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for her ground-breaking achievement, going on to set many other records and write best-selling books about her flying experiences.

Earhart was also instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots, was a member of the National Woman’s Party and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Margaret Heafield Hamilton and Katherine Johnson

Getty; NASA/Bill Ingalls

While a man may have been first to walk on a moon surface, it was actually women who made him go.

Johnson and Hamilton were both pioneers of technology and integral to NASA’s attempts to reach the moon.

Hamilton was the director of the Software Engineering Division at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. This division developed the on-board software needed to fly the Apollo space program. Johnson conducted technical work at NASA and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), for 35 years, calculating the trajectories, launch windows and emergency back-up return paths for many flights.

Her calculations were critical to the success of countless missions, including the early NASA missions of Alan Shepard and John Glenn, and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. Johnson also crunched the numbers for a mission to Mars.

Four decades later, the women received recognition when they were awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. 

Sally Ride

NASA

Sally Ride was the first American woman to travel to space. While studying physics at Stanford University in California, Ride saw an ad in the school newspaper inviting women to apply for the first time to NASA’s astronaut program in 1977.

She was one of six selected women.

On June 18, 1983, Ride went on her first space shuttle mission as an astronaut, working the shuttle’s robotic arm to help put satellites into space. In 1984, Ride flew once more on the spacecraft.

Ride was a scientist until her death, July 23, 2012. She wrote science books for students and teachers, and encouraged students, especially girls, to study science and math. 

Brenda Berkman

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Brenda Berkman fought tirelessly for her right to firefight in her community and was hired by the FDNY as the first woman employee in 1982.

“In a small way I was trying to challenge the stereotypes and fears that keep us from achieving our greatest potential,” Berkman WriteLeanIn.org “Prior to 1977 there was a quota for women firefighters in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) — and that quota was zero. No matter what your physical or mental capabilities, family tradition or firefighting expertise, if you had been born female you were not even allowed to apply to become an FDNY firefighter.”

Though the ranks opened to women that year, the FDNY used a physical test that all female applicants failed, including Berkman. She filed suit on the grounds that she was discriminated against because of her gender. As a result, a new test that was based primarily on the job’s demands was created. That year, Berkman and 40 more women passed the test.

Sandra Day O’Connor

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Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and became one of its most influential justices. She was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and served from 1981-2006.

“I am not a person who carries a lot of tension around,” O’Connor said in an interview not long after she came to the Supreme Court. “I try to do the best job I can and then never look back.”

Shirley Chisholm 

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Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968. She represented New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. 

In 1972, Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate to make a bid for the presidency and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Later she added, “When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men.”

Elizabeth Beisel

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Elizabeth Beisel was the first woman to ever swim from Rhode Island to Block Island. Beisel is a three-time Olympian. “humbled and honored”It was an honor to be able to achieve this feat. Beisel (29 years old) swam 10.4 miles in September 2021, in just five hours and 19 mins.

Her swim helped raise funds for cancer research and programs Her dad died from pancreatic cancer several months earlier, and Beisel began her swim next to his favorite restaurant, Ocean Mist.

“As a child growing up in Rhode Island and swimming in the ocean along our beautiful coastline, I always dreamed of swimming to Block Island,”Beisel made the statement in a press conference. “I envisioned my dad on the island waiting for me to finish with an ear-to-ear grin on his face — how proud he would be that I made it.”

She also told Good Morning America that her dad hadn’t wanted the swim to be about him, but about everyone fighting the disease. GMA reported that she raised money for research at Rhode Island hospitals, which included the hospital where her father was treated.

“I’ll never get to hug him again, but his fight wasn’t for nothing,”She spoke on the show. “I know that my dad’s battle, along with the money raised by Block Cancer, will save someone’s life one day. He is smiling knowing we helped give someone and their family the most precious gift of all time.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton

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Hillary Rodham Clinton was first woman to be nominated by a major party for its presidential candidate in 2016. Clinton received a J.D. from Wellesley College in 1969. Yale Law School, 1973. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families was founded by her in 1977.

In 1978, she was elected the first woman chair at the Legal Services Corporation and the first woman partner at Rose Law Firm. Clinton, the first lady of the United States was a champion for healthcare reform and gender equality.

“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all,” she famously said at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on Sept. 5, 1995. 

“As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace everywhere in the world, as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled, subjected to violence in and outside their homes — the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized,”She continued. 

Mikayla Holmgren

Vince Torre

Mikayla Holmgren made history as the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in a Miss USA state pageant. 

“I just want to build awareness for those with special needs and especially those with Down syndrome,”She spoke out to Inside Edition Digital in 2017 after she submitted her casting tape for consideration for the swimsuit issue. “Sports Illustrated.” 

She has earned many credits over the years including Special Olympics athlete (level 3), gymnast (level 3) and model. She is no stranger to the limelight, having been featured in campaigns for Sigma Beauty, Rosedale Mall, Sephora, and Rosedale Mall.

Holmgren shared with Inside Edition Digital her enthusiasm for taking on new challenges. “I have seen other Miss USA contestants do it. And, I said, I want to do this.”

Holmgren voted in support of a bill to ban abortions in Pennsylvania based on Down syndrome diagnosis in 2019. 

“When I was born six weeks early, the doctors said that I may never walk or talk,”She spoke to the audience during the press conference.  “I proved them wrong.”

Tammy Duckworth

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Tammy Duckworth, a disabled veteran who served in the U.S. Senate, was also the first woman to have a baby while she was serving in the U.S Senate. 

After she became pregnant with her second child, Duckworth set out to address the challenges she would face as a sitting senator and new mom. 

“You’re not allowed to bring children onto the floor of the Senate at all, so if I have to vote and I’m breastfeeding my child, what do I do, leave her sitting outside?” the Iraq veteran said in an episode of Politico’s “Women Rule” podcast.

Kamala Harris 

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Kamala Harris is America’s first female vice-president, the highest ranking female official in American history and the first Black American or South Asian American vice-president.

Harris was a pioneer long before she was elected to the second highest office in the country. The Howard University graduate attended the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law before beginning her career as a prosecutor. She went on to become the first woman elected as San Francisco’s district attorney, the first Black person and first woman to be elected attorney general of the state of California, the second Black woman and the first South Asian American to be elected to the Senate. 

Harris once stated that Harris has broken many glass ceilings, and is an example for others. “My mother had a saying: ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.'”