One hundred years ago this week, women scored their first victory towards achieving equality.
The Representation of the People Act added 8.5 million women to the electoral roll, who were eligible to vote for the first time in the 1918 general election.
Over the next decade, the first female MP was elected to Parliament and by 1928 the vote was extended so that all women over 21 were eligible.
Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank, born in Frankfurt, Germany, on 12 June, 1929, is the author of one of the most widely read accounts of the Holocaust and a symbol for the lost promise of more than one million Jewish children who died at the hands of the Nazis. After fleeing to Amsterdam when Hitler came to power, by 1942 she was forced into hiding and spent the next two years writing in her diary. She and her family were sent to Bergen-Belsen in 1944, where Anne, aged just 15, died from typhus. Today her diary has been translated into more than 60 languages.
Israel’s first (and to this day only) female Prime Minister, Gold Meir was known as the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics well before the same term was applied to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. David Ben-Gurion, under whom she previously served as foreign minister, described her as his “best man in the government”. During her tenure, she met with world leaders to promote her vision of peace in the Middle East and in the wake of the Munich massacre of 1972, she ordered Mossad to hunt down and assassinate the suspected terrorists. She resigned in 1974, following the Yom Kippur War and died four years later, aged 80, of lymphatic cancer.
English chemist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Elsie Franklin was instrumental to discovering the double helix structure of DNA – but her contribution to this field was only recognised posthumously. Born to a prominent British-Jewish family, she is best known for her X-ray diffraction images of DNA, particularly Photograph 51, which inspired a West End play starring Nicole Kidman as Franklin. She died in 1958, aged 37, of ovarian cancer.
In a career spanning six decades, Barbra Streisand, 75, is an accomplished singer, songwriter, actress and filmmaker. She is among a handful of entertainers who have been honoured with an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award and is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, with more than 150 million albums and singles sold worldwide. With the release of Yentl in 1983, Streisand became the first woman to write, produce, direct and star in a major studio film. She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, becoming the first (and to date only) woman to win that award.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Bader Ginsburg, 84, is the first Jewish woman (and only the second woman) appointed to the United States Supreme Court. She was a wife and mother before starting Harvard law school, where she was one of the few women in her class, and transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated tied for first in her class. Bader Ginsburg has spent much of her legal career advancing gender equality and women’s rights.
Born into a prosperous Sephardi family in London, Dorothy Levitt became the first British woman racing driver and holder of the world’s first water speed record, earning her the soubriquet, The Fastest Girl On Earth. A pioneer of female motoring, she also taught Queen Alexandra how to drive and invented the rear view mirror before it was introduced by manufacturers in 1914. She died in 1922 aged 40.
American tech executive Sheryl Sandberg, 48, is the chief operating officer of Facebook and founder of the Lean In Foundation. She is also the first woman to serve on Facebook’s board. Prior to this position, she served as vice president of global online sales and operations at Google. Her 2013 book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, addresses issues with the lack of women in government and business leadership positions and has sold more than two million copies worldwide.
Entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein was the founder of her eponymous cosmetics company, which made her one of the world’s richest women. The eldest of eight daughters born to Polish Jews, Helena emigrated to Australia in 1902 with no money and little English. However, she soon found a market for her jars of beauty cream, made with lanolin, or wool wax, which she found in abundance in her adopted country. Combining the cream with lavender, pine bark and water lilies, the jars were soon flying off the shelves. Within just a few years, she opened shops throughout Australia and then London, Paris and New York, making her brand one of the world’s first global cosmetics companies. She died in 1965, aged 92.
Activist Betty Friedan was a leading figure in the women’s movement in the US and author of the seminal 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique. She co-founded and was elected the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which fought for women’s rights and later the National Women’s Political Caucus. She died in 2006 aged 85.
American historian Deborah Lipstadt, 70, is best known as the author of Denying The Holocaust. It was a book she was later forced to defend in the British courts, alongside proving Hitler’s genocidal murder of six million Jews, when she was sued by David Irving for describing him as a holocaust denier. The legal battle was regarded as so significant that the Israeli government released Adolf Eichmann’s journals to help her case. After five years, the Royal High Court of Justice ruled in favour of Lipstadt in April 2000, prompting her to exclaim: “History has had its day in court and scored a crushing victory.”
- betty friedan
- Sheryl Sandberg
- deborah lipstadt
- Ruth Bader
- golda meir
- Helena Rubenstein
- anne frank
- Dorothy Levitt
- barbra streisand
- Rosalind Franklin;
- Representation of the People Act
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