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Author Archives: A Mighty Girl Staff

  • Mary Golda Ross spent over 30 years at Lockheed, much of it as a member of the top-secret Skunk Works program involved in cutting edge research during the early years of the space race.

    When Mary Golda Ross, the first Native American aerospace engineer, began her career at the aerospace company Lockheed during World War II, women engineers were rare and most companies expected them to leave after the war was over to make room for returning men. Ross was such a phenomenal talent, however, that she not only stayed at Lockheed for over 30 years years, she became an integral member of the top-secret Skunk Works program involved in cutting edge research during the early years of the space race. As one of 40 engineers in Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects division, Ross was the only female engineer on the team and the only Native American. Her research was so secret that, even in 1994, she had to be coy with an interviewer about her work: "I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research," she said. "My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Friden computer." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Maria Mitchell became famous worldwide after becoming the first American to discover a comet.

    Maria Mitchell (second from left) and her students at the Vassar College Observatory measuring the Sun’s rotation from the movement of sunspots.

    At the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the world's first women's rights convention, illustrious suffragists and feminists like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton took time to honor a groundbreaking scientist: Maria Mitchell, who had just become the first American and third woman in history to discover a comet! Mitchell would go on to become America's first professional female astronomer, and she used her newfound fame to advocate for scientific education for girls and women. "Does anyone suppose that any woman in all the ages has had a fair chance to show what she could do in science?" she asked. "Until able women have given their lives to investigation, it is idle to discuss the question of their capacity for original work." Or, as she wrote more pointedly in one of her journals, "better to be peering in the spectrograph than on the pattern of a dress." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Stephanie Kwolek's invention of Kevlar has saved countless lives over the past 40 years.

    Stephanie Kwolek's invention of Kevlar has saved countless lives over the past 40 years. Kevlar is a fiber five times stronger than steel that is now used in numerous products ranging from boots for firefighters to spacecraft — and most famously, in bulletproof vests. It's estimated that since Kevlar's introduction to body armor in the 1970s, the lives of over 3,000 police officers have been saved, as well as those of innumerable soldiers and others in conflict zones. On the day that the pioneering chemist passed away in June 2014 at the age of 90, DuPont announced that the one-millionth protective vest made using Kwolek's lifesaving invention was sold. Continue reading Continue reading

  • At 8 years old, Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins joined the "Capitol Crawl" with other disability rights activists demanding passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    On March 12, 1990, over 1,000 disability rights activists marched from the White House to the U.S. Capitol to demand the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which had been stalled in Congress. To illustrate the barriers that many people with disabilities faced every day, over 60 activists cast aside their wheelchairs and crutches and began crawling up the 83 stone steps that lead to the Capitol building — among them was Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, an 8-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who declared "I’ll take all night if I have to" as she pulled herself up the steps. In honor of the anniversary of the historic "Capitol Crawl" — which helped drive the successful passage of the ADA, the world's first comprehensive civil rights law protecting the rights people with disabilities — we're sharing the story of this determined young activist whose actions helped transform the lives of people with disabilities across the nation. Continue reading Continue reading

  • Among hundreds of men, trailblazing NASA Engineer JoAnn Morgan was the sole woman present in the locked control room.

    A famous photo shows the control room at Kennedy Space Center on the day of the historic Apollo 11 launch packed with hundreds of men in white shirts and skinny black ties — and, among them, a single woman sits at a console. As Apollo 11 began its flight to the moon on July 16, 1969, 28-year-old instrumentation controller JoAnn Hardin Morgan became the first woman ever permitted in the launch firing room, which is locked down in advance of a space flight. Morgan, who was the first female engineer at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, would go on to have a 40-year-long career at NASA. While she encountered challenges along the way, including being "the only woman there for a long time" and spending the first 15 years working "in a building were there wasn't a ladies rest room," Morgan says that "I had such a passion that overrode anything else, the lonely moments, the little bits of negative. They were like a mosquito bite. You just swat it and push on." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Dr. Kazue Togasaki became one of the first Japanese American women to earn a medical degree in the US.

    In the midst of World War II, as many people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in internment camps, a pioneering doctor helped ensure that pregnant women got the best care she could provide. Dr. Kazue Togasaki fought sexism and racism to become one of the first Japanese American women to earn a medical degree in the US. Over the course of her remarkable career, she delivered over 10,000 babies, including 50 during one month at the Tanforan Assembly Center. "In other camps, I know they’d send the pregnant women out to the nearest county hospital to deliver, but I never thought about sending them out from Tanforan," she recalled years later. "I thought it was my duty." Continue reading Continue reading

  • These powerful stories for tweens and teens explore the grim realities of life under dictatorships, and why protecting our democracy by becoming an informed and engaged citizen is more important than ever.

    There are many rights we take for granted in a democracy, from freedom of speech to the opportunity to vote, from the freedom to criticize the government to the peaceful transition of power after free and fair elections. Tragically, throughout history, many people have discovered how fragile their rights — and their democracies — can be when extreme polarization leads to mob rule and the erosion of democratic norms. Time after time, in countries around the world, would-be autocrats and authoritarian regimes have used these fractures in weakened democracies to assert absolute control, often violently suppressing any opposition. Continue reading Continue reading

  • The Lovings' landmark civil rights case overturned bans against interracial marriage in 16 states.

    One morning in 1958, the county sheriff and two deputies burst into Mildred and Richard Loving's bedroom in Central Point, Virginia. Their crime? Mildred was Black and Richard was White; the couple had broken Virginia's anti-miscegenation law, which criminalized interracial marriages. The couple decided to fight the ban, becoming plaintiffs in a milestone civil rights case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the court sided with the Lovings in their unanimous decision on June 12, 1967 after a nine-year legal battle, the historic ruling overturned bans on interracial marriage in 16 states. Fifty years after the historic change they brought about, the Lovings' granddaughter, Eugenia Cosby, succinctly summed up the lesson they taught the world: "If it's genuine love, color doesn't matter." Continue reading Continue reading

  • Dr. Helen Taussig envisioned and helped develop a life-saving operation for the nearly always fatal "blue baby syndrome," saving the lives of tens of thousands of babies.

    Dr. Helen Taussig overcame severe dyslexia, partial deafness, and sexism to earn a medical degree and, in the 1940s, she helped develop a life-saving operation for "blue baby syndrome," a birth defect of the heart that had a very high morality rate. Now recognized as the founder of the field of pediatric cardiology, her unique insights on previously incurable babies would go on to change the field of neonatal medicine forever. "To be a leader, you have to recognize where the gaps are," observed Dr. Anne Murphy, a pediatric cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "[Dr. Taussig] recognized there was a gap in caring for these patients with heart defects... and she made the effort to work with others to make a difference."

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  • The 23-year-old secret agent hid her codes in knitting to avoid detection by the Nazis.

    In May 1944, a 23-year-old British secret agent named Phyllis Latour Doyle parachuted into occupied Normandy to gather intelligence on Nazi positions in preparation for D-Day. As an agent for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), Doyle – who celebrates her 101st birthday this week – secretly relayed 135 coded messages to the British military before France's liberation in August. She took advantage of the fact that the Nazi occupiers and their French collaborators were generally less suspicious of women, using the knitting she carried as a way to hide her codes. For seventy years, Doyle's contributions to the war effort were largely unheralded, but she was finally given her due in 2014 when she was awarded France's highest honor, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. Continue reading Continue reading

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