Editor’s note: This commentary was first published March 2, 2017.
Women’s History Month is an opportunity to honor and celebrate historic achievements of women.
By 1986, 14 states had declared March as Women’s History Month. This momentum and state-by-state action was used as the rationale to lobby Congress to declare the entire month of March 1987 as National Women’s History Month. In 1987, Congress declared March as National’s Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women. Below are some great accomplishments of women from all facets of life.
On March 3, 1887, six-year-old Helen Keller met her teacher Anne Sullivan. Keller had lost her hearing and sight as a result of illness when she was 19 months old. Sullivan taught Keller to communicate using touch and spent the rest of her life as Keller’s interpreter and friend. Keller graduated from college and became a famous speaker and author, advocating for race and gender equality and for people with disabilities.
Bessie Coleman became the first African-American woman to earn her pilot’s license in 1921. At the time, no American school would teach black women to fly, so Coleman trained in France. After earning her license, she flew in airshows and was known for daring stunts. She refused to fly anywhere that did not admit African-American spectators and gave speeches encouraging black students to become pilots. In 1926, Coleman died in an airplane crash during an airshow rehearsal at age 34.
Dr. Tsai-Fan Yu was born in Shanghai, China, in 1911. In 1939, she graduated with highest honors from Peking Union Medical College and became the college’s chief resident of internal medicine. She moved to New York City in 1947 and became a U.S. citizen in the 1950s. In 1957, she became a faculty member at Mount Sinai Medical Center, and in 1973, she was the first woman ever to become a full professor there. She retired in 1992 with Professor Emeritus status.
Indra Nooyi was born in 1955 in India, where she earned an MBA. She moved to the U.S. in 1978 and later graduated from Yale University with her second master’s degree. Nooyi became a senior vice president at PepsiCo in 1994. She was promoted multiple times and became PepsiCo’s first female CEO and president in 2006. Fortune magazine labeled her the most powerful woman in business, and Forbes rated her as the fourth most powerful woman in the world in 2006.
In 1990, Dr. Antonia Novello was appointed surgeon general, making her the first woman — and the first Hispanic person — to hold the position. She had previously worked for almost two decades at the National Institutes of Health, where she took part in drafting legislation concerning organ transplantation. Novello earned her MD from the University of Puerto Rico and completed her training at the University of Michigan, where she was the first woman named Intern of the Year.
Each of these brave women succeeded against great odds. Together, their stories demonstrate both the daunting challenges they have faced, and the extraordinary successes they have realized. The tenacity of each Honoree underlines the fact that women from all cultural backgrounds in all levels of public service and government are essential in the continuing work of forming of a more perfect union.
Courtesy of 355th Fighter Wing Equal Opportunity Office