Radical Woman of the Day

Radical Woman of the Day: Caroline Herschel

On this day in 1750 was born Caroline Lucretia Herschel, German-born astronomer and first woman to be awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. Beginning by assisting her brother Sir William Herschel—also a notable astronomer and telescope builder—by making calculations, polishing mirrors, and mounting telescopes, she went on to make significant discoveries of her own.

Herschel’s growth was stunted by a childhood bout of typhus, so she grew to only 4 feet 10 inches tall, which her family regarded as a deformity that would probably prevent her marriage. Confined to serving in the family kitchen, she eventually moved out when William invited her to live with him in England, where he was then working as a musician. The two developed their interest in astronomy together, and Herschel progressed from assisting William’s work to discovering eight comets on her own throughout the 1780s and ’90s. Her contributions gained enough recognition for the state to award her a salary of £50 per year, making her the first female scientist to be so compensated.

In 1797 William asked Herschel to cross-reference a star catalog by John Flamsteed, which contained many discrepencies and had been published in two volumes—the catalog of stars and Flamsteed’s original observations—making it difficult to follow. Herschel wrote the cross-reference, including a list of errata and an additional catalog of over 560 stars Flamsteed had not been able to include, and it was published by the Royal Society in 1798.

In 1828 the Royal Astronomical Society presented Herschel with the Gold Medal in recognition of her catalog of nebulae; no othe woman would win the award until Vera Rubin in 1996. In 1835, she and Mary Somerville became the first female honorary members of the Royal Astronomical Society, and in 1838 Herschel was elected to the Royal Irish Academy. In 1846 the King of Prussia awarded her the Gold Medal for Science. She has an asteroid and a moon crater named after her.

Radical Woman of the Day: Lindy Boggs

On this day in 1916 was born Lindy Boggs, first woman elected to the United States Congress by the state of Louisiana. When a plane carrying her husband, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, disappeared over Alaska in 1972, she ran for his seat in a special election and won.

Boggs won re-election for a full term in 1974 and was re-elected another seven times, serving from 1973 to 1991. In her most closely-contested race, against Rob Couhig in 1980, she won 63.8%–36.2%; in all other contested races she garnered over 80% of the vote. A white member of Sigma Gamma Rho, a traditionally African-American sorority, she ran unopposed in her last four races, which took place after her district lines had been redrawn to give it an African-American majority.

Boggs served as the permanent chairwoman of the 1976 Democratic National Convention, making her the first woman to chair a major party convention. In 1994, she was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame, and in 1997 President Bill Clinton appointed her U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.

Radical Woman of the Day: Michelle Bachelet

On this day in 2006 Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria took office as the first female President of Chile. Forced to flee the country when a military coup overthrew the democratic government in 1973, Bachelet had to continue her studies as a medical student in Germany, although she returned to Chile in 1979 and graduated with her M.D. in 1983. Working in non-governmental medical organizations for the remainder of the 80s, she took a position in the Ministry of Health after democracy was restored in 1990.

In the mid–90s Bachelet began to study military strategy, eventually earning a Master’s degree in the subject from the Chilean Army’s War Academy in 1998. In 2000, then-President Ricardo Lagos appointed her Minister of Health. During her tenure in that position she was able to reduce waiting lists at public hospitals by 90% and gave away the morning-after pill to victims of sexual abuse. In 2002 Lagos appointed her Defense Minister, making her the first female minister of defense in a Latin American country. She was subsequently nominated by the Concert of Parties for Democracy to run for president in the 2006 elections. She won in a runoff election with 53.5% of the vote, having taken 46% in the general election.

During Bachelet’s term as President she focused on several social issues, reforming Chile’s pension system, introducing legislation mandating gender pay equality, distributing books to 400,000 poor families with 1st–4th-grade children, and passing a law allowing emergency contraception to be distributed to children under 14 without parental consent. She also passed an education reform bill and created the National Institute for Human Rights.

Following her single term as President—the Chilean Constitution prohibits consecutive presidential terms—Bachelet was appointed head of the newly-created UN Women, taking office in September 2010. A May 2012 poll indicates that 51% of Chileans would like her to return to the presidency.

Radical Woman of the Day: Helen Zille

On this day in 1951 was born Helen Zille, former journalist and anti-apartheid activist, former Mayor of Cape Town, and current Premier of the Western Cape. Born in Johannesburg and educated at the University of the Witwatersrand, Zille began working as a journalist for the anti-apartheid paper the Rand Daily Mail in 1974.

In 1977 Zille broke a monumental story when she obtained evidence that activist Steve Biko had died in prison from a head injury, not—as Minister of Justice and the Police J.T. Kruger claimed—as a result of a hunger strike. Despite the evidence being later corroborated by Biko’s inquest, Zille and her editor Allister Sparks were found guilty of “tendentious reporting” by the Press Council, and the paper was forced to issue a “correction”. Zille and Sparks later resigned from the Rand Daily Mail when its owner tried to force them to dilute the paper’s equal-rights platform.

Throughout the 1980s Zille participated actively in the anti-apartheid movement, at one point being forced into hiding along with her two-year-old son. In 1993, after the apartheid policy had officially ended, she accepted the position of Director of Development and Public Affairs at the University of Cape Town, and a few years later she got involved with the Democratic Party when they asked her to draft a policy for Education in the Western Cape. In 2004 she won election to Parliament with the Democratic Alliance and in 2006 was elected Mayor of Cape Town in 2006. In 2007 she succeeded Tony Leon as leader of the Democratic Alliance, and she currently leads the party while serving as Premier of the Western Cape, a seat she won in 2009.

Radical Woman of the Day: Jeannette Rankin

On this day in 1917 Jeanette Pickering Rankin was sworn in as the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, representing Montana. Already a suffragist who had participated in successful campaigns to bring women the vote in Washington and Montana, she took office in Congress at a time when many women in the United States were still disenfranchised.

One of Rankin’s first major acts in Congress was voting against the United States’ participation in World War I. A lifelong pacifist, she was one of only 50 representatives who voted against the war resolution, saying, “I felt the first time the first woman had a chance to say no to war she should say it.” During her later second term in office, Rankin also voted against the country’s entrance into World War II, and in this case she stood alone amongst the entire Congress and had to call congressional police for an escort when an angry mob followed her home after the vote.

Rankin held a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Montana and briefly attended the New York School of Philanthropy. She left her property in Georgia to be used for helping “mature, unemployed women workers”, and her surviving friends used the money from her estate to found the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund, which has given away over $1.8 million in scholarships for women’s education. A statue of her stands in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Radical Woman of the Day: Simone Young

On this day in 1961 was born Simone Margaret Young, Australian conductor, first female conductor at the Vienna State Opera, and first woman to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. Young studied composition, piano, and conducting at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and began working as a répétiteur for the Opera Australia in 1983.

In 1985 Young began conducting for the Sydney Opera House, and she subsequently worked as an assistant to other conductors at the Cologne Opera, the Berlin State Opera, and the Bayreuth Festival. She became the first woman to conduct the Vienna State Opera in 1993 and in 1998 became the principal conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, where she remained until 2002.

In 2005, Young became chief executive of the Hamburg State Opera and chief conductor of the Philharmoniker Hamburg, where she currently remains. That year she also became the first woman to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. During her time at Hamburg she became the first female conductor to record Wagner’s Ring Cycle and the symphonies of Anton Bruckner.

Radical Woman of the Day: Alice Hamilton

On this day in 1869 was born Alice Hamilton, toxicology pioneer, occupational health researcher, and first woman ever appointed to the faculty of Harvard. She earned her medical degree from the University of Michigan and studied bacteriology and pathology at German universities before returning to the United States to study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. From 1897 to 1919 she lived in Chicago, teaching at the Women’s Medical School of Northwestern University and serving on the Occupational Diseases Commission of Illinois.

During her time in Chicago, Dr. Hamilton lived at Hull House, a settlement house in a poor neighborhood where residents involved themselves in the local community. Hamilton’s observation of the medical needs of her working-class neighbors led to her realization that the Industrial Revolution had brought with it new health risks not yet being thoroughly studied in America. She began researching epidemiology and industrial hygiene and was hired in 1919 as an assistant professor in Harvard Medical School’s new Department of Industrial Medicine.

From 1924 to 1930 Hamilton also served on the Health Committee of the League of Nations, the only female member of the Committee. She retired from Harvard in 1935 but continued to consult with the U.S. Division of Labor Standards. In 1944 she was included on a list of Men of Science, and in 1947 she received the Lasker Award. Dr. Hamilton died in 1970.

Radical Woman of the Day: Celestine Tate Harrington

On this day in 1998 Celestine Tate Harrington, quadriplegic street performer, died as a result of head injuries she received from two colliding cars that struck her motorized gurney. Born in 1956 with Arthrogryposis multiplex, which caused all four of her limbs to be underdeveloped, she had taken music classes for the disabled at Philadelphia’s Settlement Music School and learned to play a portable keyboard with her tongue so she could earn her living through audience donations.

In 1975 Harrington (then Celestine Tate) gave birth to a daughter, Niya, whose father was not present for her birth and died before he could marry her mother. When a social worker recommended Niya’s removal from Harrington’s care, Harrington demonstrated in a custody hearing how she could dress and undress Niya using only her lips, teeth, and tongue. She received joint custody with her grandparents, who had raised Harrington herself. Two years later, she was able to obtain sole custody, and she moved out of her grandparents’ home. She later gave birth to another daughter, Coronda.

Although she received frequent fines for performing and panhandling without a permit, Harrington’s street performances enabled her to earn a living without public assistance and even send her two daughters to college. In 1991 she married Roy Harrington, a casino employee, and in 1996 she published her autobiography, Some Crawl and Never Walk.

Radical Woman of the Day: Julia "Butterfly" Hill

On this day in 1974 was born Julia Lorraine “Butterfly” Hill, environmental activist most famous for spending 738 days living in “Luna”, a California Redwood tree, to prevent it from being cut down by loggers.

After suffering a near-fatal head injury as a result of a car crash at the age of 22, Hill re-evaluated her life and decided to go on a spiritual quest. Her journey took her to California, where she learned that activists were searching for volunteers to spend a week-long shift in a giant redwood threatened by the clear-cutting of the Humboldt County forest. Since no one else was willing to undertake the task, Hill volunteered. After some preparation, on December 10, 1997, Hill ascended 180 feet to a two-platform loft, where she spent the next 738 days. Using solar-powered cell phones to communicate, she corresponded with radio and TV news stations and survived on food hoisted up to her by volunteers and cooked on a small propane stove. She withstood freezing rain, 40-mph winds, and a ten-day siege by the logging company.

Eventually the activists and the logging company reached an agreement that would preserve Luna and all the trees surrounding it for 200 feet, and Hill descended from the tree. Since this experience, she has worked as a motivational speaker, author, and activist.

Radical Woman of the Day: Donna Hanover

On this day in 1950 was born Donna Hanover, journalist, actor, and former First Lady of New York City. Born in Oakland, California, Donna Ann Kofnovec graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Stanford in 1972. There she met her first husband, Stanley Hanover, whom she married after her graduation. They moved to New York City, where Donna Hanover obtained her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia.

Throughout the 1970s Hanover held a number of positions in TV journalism, including hosting and producing KDKA-TV’s Evening Magazine show. In 1980, as she and Stanley were getting divorced, she moved to Miami, where she met Rudy Giuliani. The two began dating and married in 1984, after they had moved to New York City. Throughout much of the 80s Hanover anchored the WPIX 10 p.m. news, leaving the position in 1989 to give birth to her second child.

Hanover campaigned for Giuliani during his successful bid for Mayor of New York City in 1993 and continued to work as a journalist at WNYW and Food Network for several years after his election. She also began to take on acting roles, appearing in The People Vs. Larry Flynt and Ransom in 1996 and in a recurring role on Law & Order, as well as other TV guest appearances. In April 2000 she signed on to play the lead role in The Vagina Monologues but resigned to support Giuliani after he announced he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

After Giuliani publicly announced his separation from Hanover without consulting or informing her in May of 2000, the couple divorced, and Hanover won custody of their two children. She continued to co-anchor for Food Network and later co-hosted for New York radio station WOR. In 2005 she published My Boyfriend’s Back: 50 True Stories of Reconnecting with a Long-Lost Love, which contained the story of her reunion with Edwin Oster, a high school boyfriend Hanover married in 2003 after a 20-year separation. She lives in New York and California.