March is Women’s History Month, a time to honor those before us who have changed the world for the better. Today is an extra special day in the month as nine women come together to each answer a very important question: Who inspires you in history, and why?
Here are the answers from nine women. As you’ll see, each answer is thoughtful and shows their special relationship with a woman in history. From two former First Ladies to an astronaut, the range of careers of the women they honor is wide, showing how many areas women have influenced and the many fantastic role models that have, are, and will come.
Blogger Chantel Keona on Michelle Obama
“To celebrate Women’s History Month, I am sharing what woman inspires me. There are so many women who have made history and have done some amazing things in their lives. Former First Lady Michelle LaVaugh Robinson Obama is not only an attorney and author, but she was the first African American woman to serve as the First Lady ever. I have been encouraged and inspired by her life’s story ever since she stepped into the public eye.
“Michelle’s influence is motivating, from her activism and not just in the political realm but her dedication to encouraging young women to believe in themselves and chase their dreams. After reading her book Becoming, it lit a fire under me to keep pursuing my goals and dreams and to do my part to uplift and support other women along the way.
“Michelle Obama’s grace and beauty are truly unmatched, and I’m sure she has touched many women’s lives around the world just like mine.” — Chantel Keona, Blogger and digital content creator
“As women, we must stand up for ourselves. We must stand up for each other. We must stand up for justice for all.”
– Michelle Obama
Author Deb Boelkes on Helen Keller
“Two women inspired me tremendously: my maternal grandmother—who had no choice but to take over running her husband’s business when he died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving her alone to raise a seven-year-old daughter just before WWII—and Helen Keller. From the moment I learned about Helen Keller at the age of 10, I was awestruck.
“Most of us are familiar with the story of how Helen was left deaf and blind after a debilitating illness. Thanks to her governess, Anne Sullivan, Helen learned to read braille, type, and even speak so that others could understand her. But did you know Helen graduated from Radcliffe College with honors? That she became an inspiring author and lecturer and tackled numerous humanitarian and political issues, such as women’s suffrage? She even advocated to Congress for the welfare of blind people.
“Perhaps no others have had more profound impacts on my own belief in myself. Thanks to the strong will and tenacity of these two remarkable role models, I have always believed I could do anything I set my mind to—no excuses. There is always a way.” — Deb Boelkes, Award-winning author of Women on Top and public speaker
Author Alex Allred on Eleonora Sears
“When asked to choose who should be on the cover of When Women Stood, it seemed an impossible request. Eleonora Sears (1881-1968) is the first known female to play men’s polo and all manners of non-traditional female sports. She was the first woman on record to fight a speeding ticket and intentionally got herself arrested for smoking. But she was also a woman of prestige while Tidye Pickett, ‘the fastest girl in the world’ (1914-1986), and Louise Stokes (1913-1978) were the first Black female athletes to make the US track team, only to be kicked off when white females were uncomfortable.
“Like our history, the cover of When Women Stood is not what it seems. Gymnast Simone Biles represents mental health and survivorship; Tahmina Kohistani, Afghanistan’s first female Olympic athlete in 2012, represents #FemaleRightsAreHumanRights as she and all Afghan female athletes have now disappeared from social media after the Taliban issued death threats; and Ronda Rousey represents the unapologetic trash-talking fighter who failed to uphold society’s hegemonic feminine ideal. One remained silent for fear of retribution, one was forced into silence while another boasted. All paid a price.
“This IS women in history, and we’ve never been more inspired.” — Alexandra Allred, Author of When Women Stood, Historian of women in sport & society
Artist Sandra Burns on Katharine Hepburn
“As a teenager in the late 1970s, I was always drawn to actress Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003). My favourite was the 1933 movie Little Women, in which Katharine plays the character of Jo March. It was not until I was in my thirties and reading Katharine’s autobiography Me: Stories of My Life that I realised what an amazing woman she was.
“I was always drawn to her character and personality that came through in many of her movies – strong, outgoing, blunt – the total opposite of me. Her parents were way ahead of their time when it came to parenting, encouraging her to question everything and to debate any topic.
“She was unconventional. As a child and as an adult, Katharine loved to go barefoot. She loved to wear trousers – at a time when it was not generally acceptable for women. She was very passionate about humanity and often fought against barriers she encountered in society. Even now, I still feel inspired by Katharine Hepburn, a wonderful, vibrant role model – and I’m reading her autobiography again.” — Sandra Burns, Nature Artist, specializing in acrylics
Urban Planner Tawkiya Jordan on Harriet Tubman
“Harriet Tubman inspires me because she really wasn’t willing to live with the status quo, and she was willing to put herself into a position to solve the problem, even if that meant taking risks. She really didn’t believe in taking no for an answer, and I would say I’m very similar. There was a certain amount of resilience and mental toughness that she had to bring to bear to do the work she was doing that I just admire.
“It’s very difficult to be a Black woman in a leadership position, but she inspires me to remain mission-oriented and, like her, I don’t allow obstacles to stand in my way if I can identify resources, skills, or relationships that will help me find a solution.
“I take it very personally that there are people in my lineage, people whose names I will never know, who had to survive much worse things than I ever will in order for me to be here doing the things I do. I feel like I have a responsibility to be just as dogged in my pursuit of justice for marginalized people.” — Tawkiyah Jordan, Senior Director of Housing and Community Strategy, Habitat for Humanity International
CEO Katherine Rothman on Betty Ford
“Betty Ford is overlooked when people mention iconic First Ladies. Mrs. Ford did things that were not always socially acceptable then for First Ladies She believed in living together before marriage, that women should be drafted into the armed forces, and advocated for abortion, even though her spouse took a different stance.
“After President Ford was sworn in, Betty accompanied a friend to a breast exam and underwent one herself. A lump was found in her breast, and Mrs. Ford underwent a mastectomy. She could have kept her medical issue a secret, as many first ladies do. Instead, Betty was photographed in a wheelchair leaving the hospital in an attempt to educate women about the importance of breast exams! Her candor likely saved thousands of women’s lives.
“Mrs. Ford will be remembered best for going public with another “taboo” subject. She was an addict and went through a horrific detox process that served as the model for therapy at what became The Betty Ford Center. She helped to destigmatize addiction and built a namesake facility that has served thousands of patients since its inception. Although she may have occasionally stumbled, she fought. She showed people that whether one is facing a physical or mental crisis, it can be won. Her humility demonstrated that a First Lady is not immune from physical or psychological hardship.” — Katherine Rothman, CEO of KMR Communications, a PR agency
Journalist Taryn Finley on Ida B. Wells
“There are so many dynamic and courageous Black women in history who inspire me, but one person who paved the way for me to thrive in my career in journalism is Ida B. Wells. Born in the dead of summer in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells laid the groundwork for what we know as investigative journalism today with her audacious reporting of the brutal racism and lynchings in the Jim Crow South.
“She was a crusader, a suffragist, and a hero. And her story is largely what pulled me into telling our stories.
“Black women’s stories hold so much value and significance. They aren’t niche stories; they’re national stories that deserve to be highlighted, revered, and praised. They are a reminder of the everyday miracle it is to witness Black women be able to live their most authentic and fulfilled lives. Wells fought that fight, and we continue to carry her torch. I am because she was.” — Taryn Finley, HuffPost’s Senior Culture Reporter, and Co-Host of Listen to Black Women
CEO Erika Seth Davies on Billie Holiday
“This may not be very traditional, but I truly admire Billie Holiday. She’s from Baltimore, so there’s that, but she had this commitment to justice, and she used her art to honor that commitment. And despite all the things that transpired in her life – all the way to the point of the United States vs. Billie Holiday – she was unwavering.
“The more I learned about her and her struggles – her attempts to transcend her struggles, her commitment to her craft and her personal values – I just came to admire her over time.
“There’s also the story we’re told, and the story that unfolds over time, and who tells the narrative matters. I’m just glad that more of her true narrative is being revealed.” — Erika Seth Davies, CEO of Rhia Ventures, a woman-led venture capitalist firm
Author Lydia Fenet on Sally Ride
“Sally Ride. When I was growing up, the movie Space Camp was all the rage. My parents took us to NASA to let us see the space center firsthand, and I became obsessed with the idea of going to space. Years later, we watched as Sally Ride became the first American woman to go to space. Even at my young age, I was awestruck watching her put on her astronaut suit and walk toward the space shuttle.
“It’s incredible how much easier it looks when you see someone who looks like you. It’s women like Sally Ride who have inspired me to be the first, to be fearless about trying something new. If you can see it, you can be it.
“And while ultimately becoming an astronaut was not my path, the image of her sitting tall and proud in a group of men always stuck with me and led me to believe that I could do the same.” — Lydia Fenet, auctioneer and author of Claim Your Confidence
Thank you to these amazing women – Who inspires you?
To each woman who participated, I thank you! Seeing women supporting women like this is beautiful. While they point out who inspires them, each woman who contributed is also awe-inspiring in her own right.
I’m curious: What woman in history inspires you? And why? Also, were you familiar with the 9 women in history featured above? Please share in the comments section below!
Looking for more inspiration? Check out these 5 trailblazing women in engineering history