By Allie Judge
Although history books have not always reflected it, for the whole course of human history women have been inventors, leaders, revolutionaries, artists and changemakers. March is Women’s History Month — a special time to uplift women, share their stories and celebrate their impacts throughout history. At KAMA DC, we wanted to share the inspiring stories of six women immigrants who impacted U.S. history. In spite of facing barriers due to gender, race, class and their status as immigrants, these women stand as role models for perseverance and courage. Whether these names are familiar to you or not, their impacts continue to echo in our lives -- and we hope you are as inspired by their stories as we are.
Originally from England, Blackwell’s parents were sugar refiners, Quakers and anti-slavery activists. She moved to New York when she was 11 and eventually became the first woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree and be listed on the Medical Register. After spending years facing discrimination as a female physician, she founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1957 with her sister, Emily. Ten years later, she founded her own medical college in New York City. She spent her life advocating for education for women in medicine.
Born near Shanghai, Wu studied physics at a university there and was encouraged by a professor to pursue her studies in the U.S. She immigrated in 1936 and obtained a PhD in physics from Berkeley. Despite vehement anti-Asian racism at the time, Wu was so brilliant that she was recruited to work on the Manhattan project and eventually dubbed the “First Lady of Physics.” She made significant advancements in the study of beta decay in atoms, for which she was controversially passed over for a Nobel Prize that was awarded to her male colleagues.
Jones is a Jamaican-born model, actress and singer whose unique androgynous style, striking features and talent cemented her status as an icon in the 1980s. She began modeling at the age of 18 before eventually signing a record deal, after which she became a notable figure in disco, new wave and reggae. She also became a world-famous fashion icon, model and actress, breaking barriers as a dark-skinned woman who defied gender norms. Jones has served as inspiration for many superstars who followed, including Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé.
Born in Austria-Hungary, Lamarr fled her home country due to the spread of Nazism as well as an abusive marriage. In the U.S., she grew to be a world-renowned actress during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Despite a lack of formal education, she’s widely known for her genius as an inventor: Lamarr helped create a radio guidance system that was used during World War II to prevent torpedo jamming. This technology was eventually incorporated into modern inventions such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS.
Allende has been called "the world's most widely read Spanish-language author." Originally born to a political Chilean family, she helped endangered families flee to Venezuela after her uncle, the president of Chile, was overthrown in a coup. In Venezuela, she worked as a reporter and wrote her debut novel, "The House of Spirits," which achieved critical acclaim. In 1987, she moved to the U.S. where she has continued writing and advocating for women and children in the developing world.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones
Sixty-five year-old Mother Jones was once labeled "the most dangerous woman" in the country by a prosecutor when she was jailed for organizing with striking mine workers. Having left Ireland as a child during the Irish Potato Famine, Jones became a labor activist after the Great Chicago Fire destroyed her business. She was so relentless in her organizing that at one time she had no permanent address. The progressive magazine, Mother Jones, stands as a testament to her impact, having been named after her more than a century after she began her work.
KAMA DC provides a platform for immigrants to teach classes and share stories based on their skills and passions.