(This is from the back cover of Great American Women in Science and Environment.)

Yeah, we’ve come a long way, baby.

    Recent editorial comments made on a CBS news program have me concerned about the status of women. It has reported that women in Iran have been imprisoned or poisoned for as little as showing their hair in public and wanting the same education men are allowed. The Ukrainian War with Russia has women and children leaving their current homes and lives because of a nasty, unnecessary conflict, goaded on by one man’s perverse ego. And in the U. S. some states are not allowing women medically needed abortions because of laws that restrict access to healthcare options.

    Is this any way to treat half the planet’s population in the twenty-first century?

    Women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem has pointed out that when women are educated and allowed to work outside of the home, the family prospers and the community benefits. Why some countries in this day and age won’t allow women to get an education and have personal autonomy is a real head scratcher. Women’s work “does” add value to the community, and in the U. S. we are thankful for women teachers, police officers, nurses and engineers. NASA has even seen the value of the fairer sex and wants to send the first woman to the moon, as part of its upcoming ARTEMIS program.

    But overall, this planet has a long history of restricting women’s rights, including in America. As far back as the 1830s, women were conversing about the possibility of higher education for themselves in the U. S.  In 1848, activists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the first national Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, before future suffragette Susan B. Anthony was even involved. Cady Stanton helped draft the “Declaration of Sentiments,” which stated women deserve the right to vote and should have the same civil, political and religious rights as men, including better pay and not having her husband as master over her life. Women weren’t taken seriously; it would take many years for new laws, and the right to vote was not a ratified,  constitutional amendment till  August 19,1920. This is a right many still don’t take advantage of.

    With roadblocks at every turn in this so-called land of opportunity, women have had to really push themselves to get ahead, motivated by mentors or just financial necessity. At an all girls’ prep school, first woman astronaut Sally Ride was actually encouraged by her teacher Elizabeth Mommaerts to major in science in college. She would later teach college physics after two trips in space on the Space Shuttle (retired in 2011). First U. S. woman doctor Elizabeth Blackwell was also convinced by another woman, sick friend Mary Donaldson, to pursue a career no woman had been allowed to do at that point. In May 1857, Blackwell and her sister Emily, also a doctor, received enough donations from Quakers and other friends to open a hospital for women and children in New York City, eventually being paid by the city for their efforts.

    Sometimes necessity pushes women to be creative and enterprising. Madam C. J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was a young orphan, then young widow with a child who moved to St. Louis where her brothers were barbers, and soon started her own business. An African American woman with haircare problems, she experimented with different formulas and lived in different cities before coming up with products for Black women in the early 1900s, such as “Vegetable Shampoo” and “Glossine.” She and her daughter Lelia promoted the product all over the states, had other women sell their many products and became a self-made millionaire who donated to the Indianapolis Black YMCA and the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. You can still buy her products today, from the Sephora company.

    One outstanding woman who must also be mentioned is Gertrude Elion. Interested in science and inspired by the death of her Jewish grandfather from cancer, Elion majored in chemistry in the 1930s. By the 1940s the second world war took men out of many jobs, giving her a chance to do some lab work. By the 1950s she was working with George Hitchings at Burroughs Wellcome. By herself and with a team, she developed some of the most memorable treatments for disease. This has included treatments that cure most childhood leukemia cases, AZT, which treated the AIDS virus in the 1980s (replaced by newer drugs now), and anti-rejection drugs that make organ transplants possible.

   Yes, when given a push or just a chance, women in the U. S. and elsewhere have and can make a big difference, a difference that helps both genders and ensures a better future for all.

By Ms. D. J. Mathews                         

writer, Master naturalist member and author.

See more of her writing at www.writerdjmathews.com/blog/ or https://Medium.com/@djmathews

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