Malala Yousafzai

“I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
― Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai (1997) is a Pakistani activist for female and child education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. As a young girl, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, but survived and went on to become an important international voice for human rights.

Now living in asylum in the UK, she raises awareness and funds for education rights for women and children internationally through the Malala Fund. 

Globally, 10 million more girls are out of school than boys.

In one of my favorite TED Talks,  her father talks about his brave daughter with pride, but one can also see that she got much of her confidence from him, a teacher who encouraged her personality and mind from an early age because— unlike many in his culture—he believed that girls should have the same  educational rights as men.

Marie Curie

“Nothing in life is to be feared—it is only to be understood.” —Marie Curie

Marie Curie (1867-1934) is considered one of greatest scientists of all time. Her research opened the gates to modern science as we know it. Raised in Russian-occupied Poland, she was not allowed to study with the men in the Polish Universities, but after moving to Paris, she became the first woman to earn a physics degree from the Sorbonne—then the first woman to teach there. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize (Physics in 1903) and the first person to win the award in two different fields (Chemistry in 1911). She discovered the element radium, establishing the development of X-rays as well as radioactive therapies for Cancer. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centers of medical research today.

Yusra Mardini

“Being a refugee is not a choice.  Our choice is to risk death or die at home trying to escape.” — Yusra Mardini

Yusra Mardini (born in 1998) is a Syrian swimmer, who was a member of the Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Less than two years ago, 16 year-old Yusra fled war-torn Syria with her sister. They were among the massive wave of refugees that arrived in Greece by boat. Thier small boat, dangerously carrying twenty people, nearly capsized. Because they were the only swimmers on board—Yusra, her sister, and another woman got into the water, trying to push the boat to shore. They were in the water for three hours and thought they would surely die. They survived the trip, but had a hard, dangerous journey ahead through Europe to Germany. The prominence of her becoming an Olympian has allowed her to share her story with the world  and shed light on the bravery (and plight) of the Syrian refugees. She is a bright example of overcoming the worst of circumstances with one’s dreams intact.

Susan B. Anthony

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.”

—Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) was an American social reformer and women’s rights activist who dedicated her life to women suffrage.  It is largely because of her determination and zeal that women in American have the equal right to vote and own their own property. She campaigned for equal rights for most of her long life. In  1920—fourteen years after her death—the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment was passed, granting the right to vote to all U.S. women over the age of 21.

So committed was Susan to her cause that once pledge the cash value of her life insurance to meet the University of Rochester’s financial demands for the admission of women. I don’t even think we realize how grateful we should be for women such as Susan B. Anthony.

Happy March, by the way—it’s Women’s History Month!

Margaret Mead

“We are continually faced with great opportunities

which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.”

—Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978)  was an American Anthropologist most known for her work in the South Pacific. She wrote many books and was a prolific speaker. She is credited with changing the way we study different human cultures, and her work is still widely respected in the field.

Josephine Baker

“Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul, when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.” —Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker (1906—1975) was an African-American singer and dancer, who was a huge sensation in Jazz Age Paris, although she was shunned in her own country. She was the first person of African descent to become a world famous entertainer and the first to star in a major motion picture (the film Zou Zou.) As an international star, she refused to perform for segregated audiences in the US. She was also a WW2 spy and was awarded military honors for her service to the French Resistance. Josephine also adopted 12 children of different nationalities. She called her family “the Rainbow Tribe,” raising them in her adopted country, France.  In all things, she fought against racial prejudice and was very influential in the American Civil Rights movement.

Artist’s notes: This is a relatively quick sketch on paper with Holbein Acrya-Guoache. I like how her eyes came out a little lopsided. I think it adds to her charm. Even in her soldier’s uniform, and thinking about the seriousness of her work with the French Resistance, she maintains a sense of comical mischief. which she certainly expressed in her cabaret acts.


Aung San Suu Kyi

“You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.” —Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi (1945—) is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero General Aung San. After 15 years of house arrest by the military that tried to thwart her work for Democracy in her country, she became the state counsellor of Myanmar and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Her father, General Aung San, was a national hero. He was the man who secured Burma’s independence from British Colonial rule, but he was assassinated when Ms. Suu Kyi was only two years old. She went on to study at Oxford University, where she met her husband and started her family. Eventually, she returned to Burma to take care of her ailing mother. The country was in turmoil because the army was running the government and not allowing the people to have a fair election. Ms. Suu Kyi led the people’s revolt with a series of peaceful protests. Although she and her party won the election, she was disqualified by a new law that stated no person with children with foreign passports could hold presidential office and she was placed under house arrest for fifteen years. She was not allowed to see her family—her two sons and her British husband, who died during this period. She was finally released from house arrest in November 2010. Since then she has been the State Counsellor (and close advisor to the elected president) of Myanmar and a symbol of hope, loyalty, and tenacity for the people of her country.

I can’t pretend to know much about Myanmar, let alone it’s complicated politics, but I have been inspired by what I’ve read and heard about this strong lady. I do want to share a story about her that resonates with me deeply. I was listening to this episode of Desert Island Discs, a BBC broadcast in which the guest tells personal stories between favorite choice of music. In this interview, Ms. Suu Kyi explains that even though she has no real memories of her father (he was killed when she was just two) he continues to be a strong motivator for her cause and the choices she’s made to honor his legacy. She says: “My father is my first love and my best love. I loved listening to stories about my father. And my mother of course concentrated on the fact that he was very honest and brave and loved his family and country very much…I think I can say that my father was my first love because I was always told that he loved me best, so this gave me tremendous confidence in life that I was his best loved.”

I was very moved to hear her say this as my own kids have lost their dad at a young age. Justine often romanticizes her father, as I suppose she should, asking to hear stories about how he showed love to her—though she can’t remember it herself. When I heard this interview, I couldn’t help but think of how important a father’s love is…and believing in it. This woman went on to fight for her father’s legacy even though it separated her from her own family for nearly two decades. I’ve been researching a lot of important famous women, and one thing is becoming clear: a father’s support is profound in their confidence. If they were treated as special/equal by their dads, they had an elevated springboard from which to do great things. Even if the father isn’t around, children can be reminded of his personal love for them. It seems profound to me. In the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, that love compels her to lead a nation, regardless of personal cost.

In societies where men are truly confident of their own worth, women are not merely tolerated but valued.”—Aung San Suu Ki

Mother Teresa

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”— Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa (1910-1997) was the founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to helping the poor. Considered one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century, she was canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.

Artist’s Notes: I used ink pen over a pencil drawing because I wouldn’t be able to get paint to do her lovely life-lines justice.—Allison

We have a Podcast about Mother Teresa as well! Check it out here.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr—”Most Beautiful Woman” by Day—Tech Inventor by Night

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) was most famous for being a film actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age. She was reportedly such a stunner than she was promoted as the World’s Most Beautiful Woman and according to one viewer, when her face first appeared on the silver screen, “everyone gasped…Lamarr’s beauty literally took one’s breath away.”

It seems strange to feel sorry for a girl for her good looks, but in Hedy’s case, they were a hinderance. She was “a casting challenge”, perhaps too gorgeous to be believed, and she became bored playing the vixen parts that only used her face but not her mind. She’s quoted: “Any girl can be glamorous, all you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”

To occupy her mind, she began working on inventions from home. Her most important invention was a system called spread spectrum signal transmission, which is also called frequency hopping. This is now the part of the technology used in our Wi-Fi and cellular phones.

Though the brilliant Hedy’s life was terribly fascinating, she also had a tendency to make regrettable choices, which complicated her personal life as well as her career. But regardless of the drama that surrounded her for her whole life, she was certainly a talented trailblazer, as a woman and as an innovator.

One of my favorite Google Doodles elegantly tells the story of Hedy Lamarr.

For more about Hedy, I also recommend listening to this episode of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. (One of my favorite podcast series.)

Artist’s notes: Darker and more dramatic than many of my other paintings, I like this one because to me it captures part of her mystique. I think she had heaps of self confidence. And in photos and film, at least, she could certainly hold her powerful gaze. I imagine she was a strong woman from the time she was a child.—Allison