Women's History Month: Women of Impact Spotlight Series

Photo from the 2019 Women's March in Washington, D.C. with the text "Women's History Month: Celebrating Women of Impact."
Matt Nazario-Miller

KLS Community Spotlights Lesser-known Women of Impact

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join us in recognizing March as Women’s History Month.

Throughout March, our community of leaners celebrated Women's History Month in a variety of ways, including the formation of a crowdsourced list of impactful women that often do not make the mainstream conversation during this annual month of recognition.

We will add spotlight profiles (in alphabetical order) to this page throughout the month, so check back for updates at the end of each week!


Ai-jen Poo

Photo of Ai-jen Poo.

Ai-jen Poo is the co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a non-profit organization working to bring quality work, dignity and fairness to the growing numbers of workers who care and clean in our homes, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color. In 12 short years, with the help of more than 70 local affiliate organizations and chapters and over 200,000 members, the National Domestic Workers Alliance has passed Domestic Worker Bills of Rights in 9 states and the city of Seattle, and brought over 2 million home care workers under minimum wage protections.

The daughter of Taiwanese-American parents, Ai-Jen's upbringing instilled the importance of justice and equity in her life and her career.

Continue reading about about Ai-jen here. 


Amanda Nguyen

Portrait photo of activist Amanda Nguyen.

Photo: Source

Amanda Nguyen, born in 1991, is a civil rights activist, the CEO and founder of a non-governmental civil rights organization called Rise, and influencer in the formation of the Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act. In 2019, Amanda was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, has appeared in Forbes  30 Under 30, and has received numerous awards for her work in public policy.

Amanda earned her B.A. at Harvard University in 2013, interning with NASA soon thereafter, and she also worked as the deputy White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of Senate.

Dedicated to the mission of the organization she founded, Amanda left her role at the State Department in 2016 to be full-time with Rise. 

Continue reading about Amanda Nguyen here.


Chien-Shiung Wu

A photo of Chien-Shiung Wu, Chinese American physicist.

Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese American physicist and a Manhattan Project Veteran. She helped develop the process for separating uranium metal into U-235 and U-238 isotopes by gaseous fusion, and she also developed improved Geiger counters for measuring nuclear radiation. Chien-Shiung is believed to have been the only Chinese person to have worked on the Manhattan Project, which was a research and development initiative during World War II that produced nuclear weapon technology for the first time.

From the Atomic Heritage Foundation: "Born in a small town near Shanghai, Wu attended a school started by her father, who believed in education for girls, despite it being an uncommon belief at that time. Wu went on to study physics at a university in Shanghai, where one of her professors had worked with Marie Curie. After graduation, she became a research assistant when her supervisor encouraged her to pursue advanced education in America. 

In 1936, Wu arrived in San Francisco, with some financial assistance from an uncle. She enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley where she completed her Ph.D. in 1940. She married Luke Yuan, a fellow physicist, in 1942." 

Continue reading about Chien-Shiung Wu here. 

Kalpana Chawla

Portrait photo of astronaut Kalpana Chawla.

Kalpana Chawla was an American astronaut, accomplished scholar, engineer, and the first Indian-born woman to go to space.

She earned a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, India, and a M.S. in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado. She served as the mission specialist for the Columbia shuttle, which tragically did not survive its return trip through the atmosphere on February 3, 2003.

Dr. Chawla was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, a recognition authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1969 to recognize any astronaut who has "distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the Nation and mankind."

Continue reading about Kalpana Chawla here.


Malia McAndrew

Photo of Malia McAndrew.

Malia McAndrew, KLS History Specialist & Visiting Faculty Member, is a historian who loves thinking, teaching, and writing about the past.

Malia's academic work was recently included in a feature by JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources that KLS students reference for their classes. On March 1, 2021, her article, "Black Images and the Politics of Beauty," was included in the JSTOR Daily newsletter. 

Read the feature in the JSTOR Daily here to learn more.

From Malia's biography:

Malia holds a Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her publications investigate the meanings of gender and race in modern America. Since 2008, Malia has served as an Associate Professor of History at John Carroll University near Cleveland, Ohio. In 2019, she was a visiting scholar at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is now thrilled to be working with the team developing Khan Lab School’s history curriculum.  

Today, many young people are driven by a desire to make a difference in the world around them. Similar to her students, Malia holds a deep commitment to issues of social justice. In the classroom she encourages young people to look for the causes of today’s social ills. She then asks students to think about how people in the past successfully overcame seemingly intractable problems. In this way, she encourages tomorrow's leaders to think about how they might act today in ways that will bring about lasting social change.  


Mariana Bracetti

Art illustration of Mariana Bracetti weaving the Puerto Rican flag.

Mariana Bracetti is believed to have been the woman who created the first version of the Puerto Rican flag, which was a bit different than the Puerto Rican flag we know today.

In the 1860s, Mariana was an independence movement activist and a key member of the Grito de Lares, which was a revolt in the town of Lares that ultimately resulted in the first Puerto Rican republic in 1868. Before the "Grito de Lares," Mariana bore the nickname “Brazo de oro” (meaning "arm of gold") because of her sewing skills. Today, her original Puerto Rican flag – known to many as the Bandera Revolucionaria (meaning "revolutionary flag") – can be found at the University of Puerto Rico.

Learn more about Mariana Bracetti here


Marsha P. Johnson

A photo of Marsha P. Johnson.

Marsha P. Johnson was an iconic Black activist in the early movement for LGBTQIA+ civil rights in the United States. After experiencing a difficult childhood due to anti-LGBTQIA+ ideologies, Marsha moved to New York City's West Village in 1967 to forge a new life safe from discriminatory violence. Shortly thereafter, in 1969, Marsha was present at the Stonewall Inn and is said to have thrown the first brick, causing the historic Stonewall Inn Riots that launched the modern LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement in the United States. 

After the Stonewall Inn Riots, Marsha became friends with fellow LGBTQIA+ activist of color Sylvia Rivera. Together, they co-founded the organization that came to be known as STAR, a group focused on supporting LGBTQIA+ community members (particularly youth) experiencing homelessness in New York City. During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, Johnson dedicated her work to AIDS activism to increase awareness about the crisis and advocate for more affordable AIDS medication.

In the 1980s, Johnson became a tireless AIDS activist, demonstrating with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) to help build awareness and lower the prices of AIDS medication.

Read more about Marsha P. Johnson here.


Patsy Mink

Photo of Patsy Mink.

Patsy Mink was the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Asian-American Congresswoman, among other groundbreaking accomplishments in her life and legal career. From the National Women's History Museum:

"In 1959 when Hawaii became a U.S. State, Patsy Mink knew she wanted to run for a position in government. Little did she know, she would become the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress. In addition to writing bills like Title IX, the Early Childhood Education Act, and the Women's Educational Equity Act, Mink was the first Asian-American to run for U.S. President.

Patsy Matsu Takemoto was born on December 6, 1927 in Paia, Hawaii. One of two children, her father, Suematsu Takemoto was a civil engineer. When she was a junior at Maui High School, she won her first election as class president. She graduated in 1944 as the valedictorian. After graduation, she went on to attend Wilson College in Pennsylvania and the University of Nebraska but transferred after facing racial discrimination. All students of color were not allowed to live in the same dorms as white students. In addition, Mink was diagnosed with a thyroid condition that needed surgery. She decided to move to Honolulu to finish her schooling at the University of Hawaii with hopes of becoming a doctor. At her new school, she became a member of the varsity debate team, and was elected president of the Pre-Medicine Students Club. She graduated in 1948 with majors in zoology and chemistry. She applied to several medical schools after graduating but none of her applications were accepted. Instead, Mink decided to apply to law school and was accepted at the University of Chicago Law School." 

Continue reading about Patsy Mink here.


Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens performing with her string instrument.

Rhiannon Giddens, an accomplished musician and MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, uses her art to "excavate the past and reveal bold truths about our present." Rhiannon co-founded the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops project and has received several other Grammy nominations for her musicianship. 

Rhiannon's work emphasizes the stories of people who are frequently erased from American musical history. She is the Artistic Director of Silkroad and has been working to develop innovative program offerings for the organization, including focuses on the history of the American transcontinental railroad and the musical history associated with its construction.

Continue reading about Rhiannon Giddens here.


Sinéad Burke 

Photo of Sinéad with a shirt that reads, "Disabled looks like me"

From Sinéad Burke's Instagram, @thesineadburke

Sinéad Burke is an Irish activist, author, and public speaker who called attention to the intersection of ability, access, and design in her TED Talk, "Why Design Should Include Everyone."

Sinéad's work has amplified awareness about the additional challenges faced by people living with disabilities every day. In September 2019, she was on the cover of British Vogue, appearing alongside other women of impact across the world in the issue itself, which was titled "Forces for Change." From Sinéad's website:

"Since my very first day in primary school, I understood the power of education and its value in being a catalyst to combat ignorance, to challenge the status quo and to give agency and opportunity to the most vulnerable. My ambition to become a teacher – one who ensured that children felt represented, listened to and safe in my classroom – stemmed from this idea, but could have been thwarted by the notion, ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’. Instead, I graduated at the top of my class, receiving the Vere Foster Medal from Trinity College, Dublin.

Through writing, public speaking, lecturing and social media, I highlight the lack of inclusivity within the fashion and design industries and consult with leadership to ensure the process of designing for, with and by disabled people is embedded into their business model. I also critique the ways in which the media talks to women and offer an alternative conversation that celebrates the achievements of others with the ‘Extraordinary Women’ interview series."

Continue reading about Sinéad Burke here.


Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera was a remarkable LGBTQIA+ rights activist born to Puerto Rican and Venezuelan parents in 1951. Rivera was a regular patron at the now-famous Stonewall Inn, and she was present during the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Activist work of Rivera's included co-founding STAR, a group focused on supporting LGBTQIA+ community members (particularly youth) experiencing homelessness in New York City.

Sylvia was a fierce advocate for those on the margins of the LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement following the Stonewall Riots. Her organizing work included the fight against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York, and Sylvia was particularly focused on the rights of people of color, trans people, and those experiencing poverty.

Continue reading about Sylvia Rivera here.


Yuri Kachiyama

Photo of activist Yuri Kochiyama.

Yuri Kochiyama was a lifelong activist. Yuri, her family, and thousands of other Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to internment camp sites after the events at Pearl Harbor. After World War II, Yuri moved to New York City where she would hold weekly activist open houses in her own apartment. Yuri's legacy of impact is a life-long commitment to advocacy for civil rights for the marginalized. 

Continue reading about Yuri Kachiyama here


KLS Community - Do you have a suggestion for a lesser-known woman of impact to spotlight? Send us a note at communications@kls.org.

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