10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Women’s History

March is Women’s History Month. During this time, we might take a few minutes on social media to reflect on the achievements of women despite the adversity they have faced, or students might get some extra homework that relates to a set list of prominent historical women. But it’s probably been a long time since you were in school, and there might be some things you just never learned about what women have contributed to society. We’re here to change that! Check out our (nowhere near complete) list of things that might surprise you about women’s history.

1. Women Have More Inventions Under Their Belts Than You Thinktable saw cutting a piece of wood.

Windshield wipers, disposable diapers, white-out, hair products, non-reflective glass, dishwashers, modern petroleum refining methods, the ice-cream maker, the circular saw, the word processor, antifungal drugs, caller ID, fire escapes…what do they all have in common? Yeah, you’ve probably guessed by now: they were all invented by women. And that list is by no means complete! Women have been inventing, perfecting, and patenting (even if they had to do it in their husband’s name) for centuries – the first patent was granted to a woman in the U.S. in 1809.

2. Women Have Been Involved in Tech for Over a Hundred Years

Many people think that men were the only ones involved in developing computer technology, but, well, they’re wrong. Starting with Ada Lovelace in the 19th century, who is credited with the being the world’s first computer programmer, women like Grace Hopper (who programmed computers during WWII), Katherine Davis (of Hidden Figures fame), and Susan Kare (who developed much of the Apple MacIntosh’s interface elements) have been helping the human race advance for decades. 

3. Women Have Excelled in the Sciences (Plural)x-ray of a human skull

Most people have heard of Marie Curie, who is basically the mother of radiation and x-rays. But did you know that she was not only the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, but she is also the only person – man or woman – to ever win the prize in two different science categories, physics and chemistry?

4. When It Comes to IQ, Women Hold the Record

For centuries, it was believed (mostly by men, we assume) that women are intellectually inferior to men. And then came standardized IQ testing, and that theory got blown out of the water. Both of the top two scores ever recorded belong to women. One of those women is the renowned author and columnist, Marilyn vos Savant. To this day, she is the Guinness World Record holder for “highest IQ.”

5. Women Have Been Powerful, in More Ways Than One

Queen Hatshepsut statue
Queen Hatshepsut

Women have sometimes been powerful figures, and sometimes had the ability to decide their destinies, despite the general oppression they lived under in many places and at many times. For example, there was actually a female pharaoh in ancient Egypt: Hatshepsut, who ruled during the 18th Dynasty. She, like Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria in their days, was extremely powerful and presided over a large empire. 

On the personal side, women in 16th century France had the ability to divorce their husbands. The only catch was it had to be because of impotence…and the men had to prove themselves, publicly.

6. Women Definitely Throw Like Girls

On April 2, 1931, Virne “Jackie” Mitchell was on the roster as a relief pitcher for an all-male professional baseball team, the Chattanooga Lookouts, playing in an exhibition game against the Yankees – and not just any Yankees team, the one that had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig playing for it. And you know what? She struck them both out. There’s some controversy surrounding that day, with some arguing that it was all a publicity stunt, but we’re going to stick with believing our eyes.

7. Women Can Be Beautiful, Talented, AND Help Win Wars

Both Josephine Baker, a singer and the first African American woman to star in a major motion picture, and Heddy Lamarr, a glamorous and successful Hollywood actress, contributed to war efforts in different ways. During WWII, Baker smuggled messages to French soldiers, carefully concealing them in her dresses, or writing them in invisible ink and hiding them in her sheet music. Lamarr developed a radio-controlled torpedo device that utilized frequency hopping as a way to prevent the jamming of torpedo signals. Unfortunately, she wasn’t taken seriously by the top brass, and her invention wasn’t utilized during WWII. However, the American government used her device to help with future conflicts and efforts.

8. Women Get There Quicker

Ever hear of the famous fictional book Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne? Well, American journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochrane, better known as Nellie Bly, beat the pants off of the main character, Phileas Fogg. She managed to travel around the world in an astonishing 72 days – which is all the more impressive considering there were no airplanes in 1889 when she began her journey.

a wall of books in a library
A woman, Murasaki Shikibu, wrote the first novel ever, The Tale of Genji.

9. The Worlds of Literature and Academia Would Be Nothing Without Women

These days, women with college degrees outnumber men with college degrees. And you know what else? A woman founded the world’s oldest continually operating, degree-granting university. In 859 CE, Fatima al-Fihri funded the construction of the Al Qarawiyyin mosque and an adjoining madrasa, which became a center of scholarly and religious activity. Besides personally overseeing the extensive building project, she attended and graduated from the university, which would have Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish students.

Not only that, but a woman wrote the first ever novel, The Tale of the Genji. Japanese noblewoman and lady-in-waiting, Murasaki Shikibu, penned her work, a unique description of the life of courtiers, in the 11th century.

10. And Finally…

There are so many other great contributions that we could talk about. Women have fought for freedom and for suffrage, they’ve invented, built, written, studied, persevered, and basically made the world a better place; we hope that you’ll seek out as many of their stories as you can. But we just can’t end this without bringing this story up: On October 24, 1901, Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. On her 63rd birthday. So yes, women also know how to celebrate.