9 Women You Didn’t Learn About In History Class But Should Have

by Maggie Stamets


You know how history class is a parade of white dudes who, more frequently than not, achieved their place in history by oppressing women or other minorites? Well in honor of International Women’s Day, we here at BUST decided to gather some badass ladies that our history books left out. Happy Herstory month!

coachman alice copyImage via BlackPast.org

Alice Coachman (1923-2014)

Coachman was the first African-American woman to win a gold medal. The track and field star won gold in the 1948 London Olympics for jumping 5 feet, 6 and 1/8 inches— so basically the height of an average woman. She was one of ten children and raised in the segregated south. At 16, she was offered a scholarship to the Tuskegee Institute to pursue her athletic career. After she won in London, she became the first African American to get an endorsement deal when Coca-Cola asker her to be a spokesperson. She went on to establish the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to help young track stairs to get their footing as well as retired olympians.


loffit emma goldman 01Image vis Wikipedia

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)

Goldman was a gifted orator and writer who spoke out for anarchy as a way to right the inherently-corrupt society into which she was born into. She was known as one of the two most dangerous anarchists in America and was frequently harassed and sometimes arrested when she spoke, or banned from speaking all together. She was a fierce advocate for freedom of expression, sexual freedom and birth control, equality and independence for women, radical education, union organization and workers’ rights. She was an instrumental player in the establishing of Freedom of Speech in America.

Ida M Tarbell cropImage vis Wikipedia

Ida Tarbell (1857-1944)

Tarbell is the mother of muckraking, investigative journalism, and is responsible for the break up of the infamous Standard Oil Company monopoly. This badass journalist was the only woman in her graduating class from Allegheny College in 1880. Her best work was at McClure’s Magazine, a publication that published political pieces as well as serialized literature. Her investigative piece uncovering the deeply monopolized criminal actioned of the Standard Oil Company was so exhaustive and so well-received it was expanded into a 19-installment series spanning from 1902-1904 titled “The History of the Standard Oil Company”— which was later published as a book. She went on to co-own and co-edit American Magazine, where she wrote pieces like “The Business of Being and Woman” and “The Ways of A Woman.” She wrote several political biographies and her autobiography All in a Day’s Work.

Ada LovelaceImage via Biography

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Lovelace was the little discussed, mind-blowingly-brilliant daughter of Lord Byron. She is known (to those who know of her) as the first computer programmer. Yeah, you read that right, she penned the first computer program in the mid-1800s. She left notes behind of a theoretical coding process for machines. In her career as a mathematician, she translated many texts, including one written by Italian engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea on Through Babbage’s analytical engine. She added her notes to the article, making it three times as long as the original and translated it into English from french for a Swiss Journal. She was brilliant far beyond her time, imagine what she could have done with the cyber world we have today.

200px Lucy Parsons.1920Image Via Wikipedia

Lucy E. [González or Gonzales] Parsons (1853-1942)

Little is known about Parsons’ early life because she herself gave conflicting accounts. Her birth year is approximated and it is known that she was born in Texas, possibly as a slave; however, she reported to be part Mexican and part Native American. Although her biography page is riddled with question marks, it is clear that Parsons was a formidable activist and anarchist. In 1871, she married and moved to Chicago where she became deeply involved with the Labor movement in the city, working with organizations like the Wirkingmen’s Party and the Socialistic Labor Party. She wrote for the SLP’s publication the Socialist and spoke out in favor of women’s rights and for the Working Women’s Union. She briefly headed her own newspaper, Freedom, in which she discussed the atrocity of lynchings and the exploitation of share croppers. She also founded the Industrial Workers of the World. The extreme activist fought for the rights of all humans however much of her work has been forgotten or misreported and perhaps that’s how she would have wanted it.

Margaret Singer PhotographImage via Wikiwand

Margaret Singer (1921-2003)

Singer was a clinical psychologist and researcher, focusing mainly on the undue influence in social and religious contexts. She became known as a brainwashing expert, although she also studied schizophrenia and coercive persuasion. Her book Cults in Our Midst exposed the psychology behind the nature of cults. She gave expert testimony in several legal trials and often faced harassment and death threats from groups she believed to be cults. She penned the “Theory of Systematic Manipulation of Social” and “Psychological Influence.”

Image via OzyImage via Ozy

Captain Ching Shih (1775-1844)

Ching Shih was one of the most ferocious pirates of her time. She commanded the “Red Flag Fleet.” Under her command the fleet of over six hundred ships and nearly 70,000 men enjoyed immense financial and military success. She first appears in historical records in 1801 when she was working as a prostitute and married the notorious pirate Cheng I. In 1807 Cheng died and Ching Shih took over. She kept a tight ship and believed strongly in the pirate code, if she thought you were stealing from the pirate treasury or if someone did something sketchy to a town or village that provided assistance to pirates, she would decapitate them with a battle axe. Raping the female prisoners on her ship was not allowed, and even having consensual sex while on duty would result in the man having his head chopped off and the lady being cast into the sea tied to two cannonballs. If a pirate wanted to marry a female captive he could, but he had to be faithful and take care of her or, you guessed it, off with his head! She ruled with fierceness and strict adherence to the pirate code.

Laura Smith HavilandImage Via Wikipedia

Laura Smith Haviland (1808-1898)

Born into a Quaker family in Canada, this abolitionist grew up in New York and then went on the spend most of her life in Michigan. Haviland was a fierce anti-slavery activist and spent her life defending the rights and freedom of women and African Americans. She organized one of the first stations and went on to serve as Superintendent and Stationmaster on the underground railroad in Michigan. She was affectionately known as “Aunt Laura.” Haviland served as an officer in Freedman’s Aid Society, where she helped former slaves adjust to life with freedom. In 1837 she, along with her husband, founded the Raisin Institute— the first school in the US to admit black students. She also worked for the temperance movement and helped to create schools for dependent children throughout Michigan

Madam CJ WalkerImage via Biography

Madam CJ Walker (1867-1919)

Born to enslaved parents, orphaned at the age of seven and widowed with a daughter by the time she was 20, and later became the first female African-American millionaire. Walker started her own business in 1906 after she married Charles Walker. Her product tapped into a market no deep-pocket white man would have ever thought of— black haircare. Six years later, she divorced Mr. Walker but kept her business, because it was hers and she is a badass. She went from earning $1.50 a day as a washwoman in her teens to running a national haircare empire. When she died in 1919, she left her fortune to her daughter and various charities and her legacy of philanthropy, social activism, and entrepreneurship to the world.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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