6 Feminist Facts From History You Weren't Taught In School (But Should Have Been)


We can all remember the endless history classes we used to sit through, where we pored over giant textbooks filled with stories about the people and events that have shaped our world. Now, however, we recognize that our historical education has been far less than complete, to say the least. We often hear about straight white men who have made important contributions, while women, especially women of color, and LGBT folks are not recognized for the important roles they have played throughout history. Going back over important events most of us were taught in middle and high school, it's almost embarrassing to notice how female pioneers have been wiped from history books. There are certainly a lot of important feminist facts we should have learned in school, but for some reason (ahem, institutional sexism) they didn't make the cut for the syllabus.

I often think about how different some of our lives would be if we had known how many of the best and most important minds in the sciences, arts, and humanities had been women, and I wish that my education centered upon more than just events attributed to men. So to round out some of the information that was utterly missing from your schooling, here are some amazing women who beat the odds and helped shape society as we know it.

The First Computer Programmer Was A Woman

While there's currently a major gender gap in STEM fields, history is sitting on a fantastic fact about women in the field. The very first computer programmer was an English countess, Ada Lovelace. A further interesting fact is that Lovelace's father is very famous in the world of poetry: Lord Byron. Somehow people are able to recognize the literary accomplishments of her father much more than Lovelace's own massive contribution to the world of technology. I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't hear Lovelace's name mentioned in an academic setting until late in college.

Trans* Women Started The Stonewall Riots

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It's possible that your history teacher skipped over the Stonewall Riots altogether, much less inform the class that this turning point for gay rights was ignited by trans* women of color. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are said to be the two women who set off the riot, causing days of protests outside Stonewall in New York City. Johnson and Rivera are very often left out of accounts regarding Stonewall; instead, the famous riot is mostly depicted as being front-lined by white men.

The First Women To Receive College Degrees In The U.S.

We learn about a lot of "firsts" in school. The first man to walk on the moon, the first president of the United States, and on and on it goes with little mention of women who had major firsts. Women had a hard battle to be included in university education, and it was not until 1840 that Catherine Brewer became the first woman to receive a Bachelor's degree in the U.S. from Wesleyan College in Georgia. Twenty-two years later, Mary Jane Patterson became the first African American woman in the U.S. to earn a Bachelor's degree. Patterson graduated from Oberlin College.

Pioneering Same-Sex Relationships

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We might have learned quite a bit about some pioneering women in school, but our textbooks often left out the fact that they were gay or, God forbid, bisexual. Jane Addams, the founder of the Hull House and a powerhouse sociologist, had a 40-year relationship with a woman. Novelists Virginia Woolf and Radclyffe Hall also both had long-term relationships with women.

A Woman's Work In Physics Led To The Discovery Of Nuclear Fission

Lise Meitner was a chemist in Germany during the 1930s. Her work with neutrons ultimately led to the discovery of nuclear fission, work which led to a Nobel Prize. But who do we suppose won the prize? No, not Meitner, but her work partner, Otto Hahn. Hahn published a paper about Meitner's discoveries, but never recognized her in the paper or when he received the Nobel Prize. This is a perfect example of the important details of history that have been buried due to sexism.

The Creator Of Sesame Street Was A Woman

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That's right! Somehow all this time we went without learning that the iconic children's entertainment and education program was created by Joan Ganz Cooney. Cooney created Sesame Street, and also founded the television network that produced the show, Children's Television Workshop. Not only is Sesame Street a much-beloved television program, but it was always hailed as an innovator in child education. How great it would it be if every kid knew that one of their favorite TV shows was brought to them thanks to the innovative work of this amazing woman?