This shouldn’t be too difficult to answer as very few were able to both “be successful” and “be able to overcome the discrimination against women” that existed until recently. Those who did, found little competition. If fact if they dared force their way into an all-male field, and had some success, they may have the advantage of being famous because they were a woman (which was regarded as a novelty). For example, many people associate radioactivity with Marie Curie. Few people know that A. H. Becquerel was the actual discoverer of radioactivity, Federick Soddy was the discoverer of isotopes and of radioactive decay (1903), and Friedrich Ernst Dorn is said to be the discoverer of radon in 1900 … all just as important, if not more so, than Curie’s work.
Science was one of those all-male fields where one finds few women prior to the early 20th century. Of course, women usually did not have access to universities nor had access to laboratories. It is hard to realize that one may have a choice when one’s family, friends, and acquaintances all have been brainwashed into thinking that the woman’s place was in the home.
Nobility was one exception. A ruling family of a kingdom, which didn’t have a male heir, was quick to find a way to educate their female children and to assure that the female became the next regent. Of course, a male, if one existed, would be selected first. Of the females that did become regent, a disproportionate number became ‘great’ rulers. Indeed, once a field is open to females, one finds some of the greatest minds in history. In particular, one would be hard pressed to find a greater ruler than the Empress Maria Theresa whose social and political reforms rivaled that of the founding fathers of America. Our exhibit will include many such royal females, not for becoming the regent, but instead because of what they did once they were in that position.
Our exhibit will not include authors, nor women in medicine, nor aviation and space. It will include many regents, a two or three of modern rulers, and a few in the women’s rights movement and the abolition movement. We will also mention a couple of super achievers; one, a saint and one, a ‘would be’ saint; Joan d’Arc and Evita. Finally, we will introduce a name that is not famous (an egregious oversight will be rectified within the next couple of generations); Lise Meitner, the Austrian physicist who discovered nuclear fission. (The Father … ah … I mean Mother of the Atomic Bomb!)
If your favorite female success story is not included in this exhibit, please let us know.