Nettie Stevens was a brilliant cytogeneticist and biologist. Despite her contributions being largely attributed to others in her field, her discovery regarding the link between gender and chromosomes is the foundation of modern-day genetics.

Nettie was born on July 7, 1861, in Cavendish, Vermont but grew up in Westford, Massachusetts. She attended the town’s public schools, graduating from Westford Academy in 1880.

Surprisingly, for someone who ultimately had such an impact on our understanding of reproduction, there is a sixteen-year gap in Nettie’s documented history. …


People say a picture is worth a thousand words. With Margaret Bourke-White, this statement could not be more true. A photojournalist during a pinnacle time in history, she brought to light the travesties that were occurring around the world during the turn of the twentieth century.

Margaret was welcomed into the world on June 14, 1904, to first-generation Americans, Minnie Bourke and Joseph White. Growing up, many of her perspectives were shaped by her parents. From her mother, she learned determination. From her father, she acquired a fascination with science and technology.

Margaret entered Columbia University in 1921 with the…


In her day, Ida Tarbell was painted a muckraker by those she took down. Today, we would call her an investigative journalist.

On November 5, 1857, Esther and Franklin Tarbell of Erie County, Pennsylvania welcomed their first child, Ida, into the world. Two-years-later, oil was discovered in Erie County. Hoping to capitalize on the “liquid gold”, Franklin established a wooden oil tank-making shop, and soon became a successful prospector and driller. Many independent drillers were soon bought out by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. Franklin believed Standard Oil had gained control of the industry through the use of illegal…


An educator, feminist, and poet, Katharine Lee Bates helped open our eyes to the beauty, and majesty of the very nation we are a part of. While she was aware of how imperfect America is and was, Katharine preferred to focus on that which allows America to shine in our eyes, enabling us to appreciate the wonder of our nation during times of strife and difficulty.

On August 12, 1859, Cornelia and William Bates of Falmouth, Massachusetts welcomed their youngest child, Katharine, into the world. A month after Katharine’s birth, the Bates family was struck by tragedy when William died…


As we enter 2021 and welcome our first woman vice president, Kamala Harris, I wanted to highlight a similar woman who set a precedent for young women across the country. Shirley Chisholm strove to enact change within her own time and pursued roles never before held by a woman of color. She faced opposition at every turn but continued to push for social reform and equality.

When Shirley was three-years-old, her parents, Ruby and Charles St. Hill, sent her to live with her maternal grandmother, Emily Seale, in Barbados. For the next seven years, Shirley was raised by Seale, her…


Dedicating her life to social reform, and as the first female Cabinet member, Frances Perkins was a revolutionary.

Born in Boston, raised in Worcester, and educated at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, Perkins spent her formative years in New England. Perkins pursued physics and chemistry at Mount Holyoke, unusual subjects for a woman of her time. While at Mount Holyoke, Perkins was inspired by Florence Kelly, then secretary of the National Consumers League. Inspired by Kelly’s advocacy for the eradication of sweatshops and child labor, Perkins dedicated her life to serving the underserved, particularly immigrants, children, and women.


Hedy Lamarr was a world-famous actress, considered the most beautiful woman in the world. She was also an immigrant, a passionate supporter of the war against the Nazis, a sexual and cultural progressive, and the inventor of the technology at the basis of Bluetooth, WiFi, and cellular communications.

On November 9, 1914, Hedwig “Hedy” Kiesler was born to concert pianist Gertrud and bank director Emil Kiesler. Growing up in Vienna, Kiesler was a stubborn, rebellious child. In an attempt to tame their wild child, Gertrud and Emil sent Kiesler to finishing school in Switzerland as a teen, but she soon…


When you google “the first woman to run the Boston Marathon,” the name Kathrine Switzer pops up. Across the Internet, Switzer is remembered for the iconic video of her being attacked by marathon officials, and for the changes that were enacted following the altercation. But Switzer was not the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. That title goes to Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb.

Growing up in 1950’s Cambridge, MA, Gibb was an active child, competing in field hockey, basketball, and volleyball. She trained by running through the woods with her dog, but Gibb never saw herself as a distance runner…


Helen Keller, world-famous for her perseverance and accomplishments, would have been none of those things without Anne Sullivan.

On April 14, 1866, in Feeding Hills, MA, Anne Sullivan was born to Irish immigrants, Alice and Thomas Sullivan. Anne faced many challenges from the beginning. Her mother’s contraction of tuberculosis when Anne was an infant left her at the mercy of her alcoholic, abusive father. When Alice eventually succumbed to the disease in 1875, Thomas abandoned his children. Anne’s sister Mary was quickly taken in by an uncle. …


Every month, I have striven to call attention to a woman who has influenced our lives today. Quarantined by the COVID pandemic, I have watched the epidemic of racism once again ravage our country. This month, I was inspired to highlight Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a journalist and activist who fought for civil rights. Throughout the 1890s, she orchestrated a campaign against lynching in the United States and fought for African American equality, particularly equality for women.

Wells-Barnett was born into slavery on July 17, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Seven months later, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed her and her…

Athena Lewin

Currently exploring the lives of influential women in history.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store