“Remember the women,” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John while he was president.
Not long ago, I thought about her words when I came across “The Children’s Encyclopedia of Women.” This cyber-hunt was started in 1998 by third and fourth grade students in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. There are several hundred women on the list that they add to every March. The children choose a woman based on a topic that interests them.
There are plenty of women I’m familiar with in the collection. From Louisa May Alcott and Maya Angelou to Queen Victoria and Eudora Welty. But I discovered hundreds of names I’d never heard of — names that intrigue me. Women whose stories I’m longing to know.
I randomly scanned the eight pages of alphabetically arranged names and haphazardly picked a few to explore. I started with Agnodice, the first female gynecologist, an Egyptian born in 300 BC.
Agnodice cut her hair and wore men’s clothes because it was a capital crime to become a female doctor. But when she revealed her sex to a patient who refused to have a male doctor, the women of Alexandria insisted that she be allowed to practice.
I scrolled down to Mary Anning, one of the most famous fossil hunters and paleontologist of the 19th century. A self-educated working-class British woman, Anning was a carpenter’s daughter. In 1811 when she was 12 years old, she unearthed a complete 6.5-foot skull of an ichthyosaur. It’s still one of the most famous geological finds on the Jurassic Coast.
She continued to make important finds in the fossil beds in Lyme Regis, England. Her work contributed to fundamental changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life, but her gender and social class kept her from becoming well-known in a field that was dominated by wealthy Anglican gentlemen.
In 2010, 163 years after her death, the Royal Society included Anning in a list of the 10 British women who most influenced the history of science.
Next, I found Mae Jemison, an American physician and NASA astronaut. She was the first African-American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit in 1992 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
In kindergarten when she told her teacher she wanted to be a scientist, her teacher said, “Don’t you mean a nurse?”
Inspired by Martin Luther King’s “attitude, audacity, and bravery,” Jemison thinks the Civil Rights Movement was about breaking down barriers to human potential. After her space flights, she was a college professor and a physician, and she appeared on “Star Trek.”
Then I looked up Wilma Mankiller, the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief. Mankiller was a descendant of Cherokee Indians who were forced to leave their Southern homeland in the1930s and walk to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.
She was a leading advocate for Cherokee people serving as their chief from 1985 to 1995.
I pored over these names, and I wondered, “Why do the history books forget to remember the women?”
Mary Belk lives in Auburn and writes a column for the Opelika-Auburn News.