By: Elise LeSage
March is National Women’s History Month, a time for both uplifting women today and remembering the bravery, sacrifices, and ingenuity of women throughout history. Unfortunately, most school curriculums fail to teach the achievements of many of the kick-ass women who fought hard to give us the rights we have today, especially ignoring women who were queer, disabled and/or of color.
To celebrate this month, let’s take a moment to remember some of these forgotten faces:
Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802 – 1887)
Born in Maine, this social reformer pioneered mental health treatment in America. Dix herself had a turbulent childhood and suffered severe depressive episodes. Despite and because of these adversities, Dix became a fierce lobbyist who worked to establish the first generation of mental health treatment facilities in the nation.
As a young adult, Dix established a schoolhouse in her grandmother’s barn in Massachusetts, where she taught neglected and impoverished children. She continued to teach until 1836, when she suffered an anxiety attack and, at the advice of her physician, spent a few months in Europe. There, the mental health facilities inspired her to advocate for similar asylums in the States. She began by seeking to reform mental health care in Massachusetts. After observing the treatment of mentally ill patients in state prisons, she wrote to her legislators: “I proceed, gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of Insane Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience.”
After this instance of lobbying succeeded, Dix continued her efforts across the East Coast. She relentlessly reached out to legislators at a time before women could even vote, often inspiring significant change in the states she toured. Her work focused especially on the care of mentally ill people who were in poverty. In 1854, she introduced the Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane, which passed through both houses in Congress, but was vetoed by President Franklin Pierce.
Dix concluded her career by serving as a Union nurse in the Civil War. Today, numerous mental asylums across the East Coast bear her namesake in honor of her work.
Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)
Coming of age during the nation’s peak years of segregation, Shirley Chisholm was both the first black woman elected to the United States Congress and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
Chisholm earned an MA in Elementary Education from Columbia in 1952. Her early work in education inspired her political career. When serving in the New York State Assembly in 1965, Chisholm was one of the main opponents against the English literacy tests in public schools, arguing that first generation immigrant students should not be deemed illiterate, because they lacked proficiency in their non-native languages.
She ran for Congress in 1968 under the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed.” Her service in congress played a key role in expanding food stamps and the creation of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Every staff member Chisholm hired was a woman, half of whom were black.
She ran for president in 1972. Her campaign gained traction but, due in part to underfunding and complications with various state ballots, Chisholm lost the primary. She was post-humanly awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Amanda Simpson (1961-Present)
Amanda Simpson, a Jewish-American woman from Chicago, IL, is not only a successful aerospace engineer, but the first openly transgender woman to be appointed by a Presidential administration.
Simpson received her Master of Science in Engineering in 1988 from California State University, Northridge and became the lead director of flight operations for the Hughes Missile Systems Company later that year. In 2004, she won the Democratic Primary for the 26th District in the Arizona House of Representatives. A year later, she served as the first vice chair for the Arizona Democratic Party LGBT caucus.
For decades, Simpson managed to hop between positions in politics, flying, and aerospace engineering. Her work attracted the attention of the Obama Administration, where, in 2009, she served as Senior Technical Adviser to the Bureau of Industry and Security in the Department of Commerce. She swore in as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy in 2015 and maintained this position until the Trump Administration dismissed nearly all of former President Obama’s appointees.