Pioneering Women: Trailblazers of Inspirational Stories

6 min read

| By Gale Staff |

Biography is a powerful classroom tool for all grade levels. When students learn through the real stories and experiences of others, they gain role models, discover critical lessons in perseverance, and develop important perspectives on the period in which a person lived. This March, we encourage K-12 educators to find ways to integrate biography into their Women’s History Month lesson plans.

American history is brimming with the accomplishments of women, but the contributions of men often overshadow those feats. Women’s History Month provides a valuable opportunity for all students, regardless of gender, to learn more about those women who paved the path toward equality and progress in the United States. This year, the theme of National Women’s History Month, “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” highlights female activists who help realize diversity initiatives, giving a voice to new ideas and celebrating differences.

Your Gale In Context: Biography subscription contains everything you need to celebrate Women’s History Month throughout your March lesson plans. With Biography, you and your students can find compelling female narratives throughout history. With the database’s intuitive tools, like our unique “Person Search” feature, users can easily curate their queries and find women leaders across various industries, periods, and ethnicities. Educators can navigate the database effortlessly to find content that meets their grade and subject needs.

Furthermore, adding Gale In Context: For Educators to your suite, gives you access to custom lesson plans, differentiated learning resources, built-in assessment tools, and collaboration features that make your daily to-do list a little more manageable. Plus, Gale’s content integrates alongside your school’s learning management system—whether Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, or Schoology—making remote learning resources available to students and improving accessibility.

To get you started, we will highlight five pioneers and activists with a brief glimpse into their stories. This list is just a small sample of what you’ll find within Gale In Context: Biography, but we hope to pique your curiosity and raise awareness for significant female figures throughout history.

Amelia Earhart

Most people know about Amelia Earhart‘s accomplishments as a pilot; she was the first person to fly solo across the United States (without stopping), and her tragic disappearance while attempting to fly around the world remains a mystery. However, did you know she was also a candid activist and cutting-edge fashion designer? Born in Kansas in 1897, young Earhart dreamt of learning to fly. By age 25, despite her parents’ financial and substance abuse issues in the home, she was already flying solo and breaking aviation records. Her success gave her a platform on which to motivate other young people. She encouraged women to pursue higher education and even served as a visiting faculty member for aeronautics at Purdue University. She designed functional traveling clothes for women and lobbied for birth control rights. Despite her untimely disappearance in 1937, Earhart’s legacy inspires women to push boundaries, especially in male-dominated spaces.

Allyson Felix

Allyson Felix is a U.S. athlete and winner of 11 Olympic medals (including seven golds). She didn’t join the track team until she entered high school but was an immediate star. She qualified for the California State Track and Field Championships as a freshman, and by her sophomore year, she won the 100-meter title. At age 19, she was training for her first Olympics and had signed a six-figure contract with Adidas. Soon after, doctors diagnosed Felix with exercise-induced asthma, though she went on to win the silver medal in the 200-meter dash. Felix is an exceptional athlete and Olympic champion, but by 2018, she took on a new role—motherhood. After a complicated pregnancy, Felix continued to compete, but the experience gave her a new perspective. She has since become a staunch advocate for working women and maternity rights, especially for African-American mothers who face disproportionately higher rates of death in childbirth.

Gitanjali Rao

Gitanjali Rao is proving that people can become activists and role models at any age. In 2020, at just 15 years old, Rao was named Time magazine’s first-ever “Kid of the Year.” Born in 2005, Rao comes from a well-educated Indian American family. She was naturally inquisitive and socially mindful at a young age. Following the alarming water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Rao wanted to help find a solution; she invented a process for people to rapidly test water samples and receive contamination results via a smartphone app. Rao is unfailingly curious and innovative, and she has since launched a mobile app to help prevent cyberbullying and a medical device that can help detect the risk of opioid addiction. Stories like Rao’s can empower your students to recognize that anyone, especially young Americans, can create positive change.

Christina Koch

Christina Koch is an American astronaut who, in October 2019, along with fellow astronaut Jessica Meir, participated in the first all-female spacewalk. Koch was born in 1979, just before Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman in outer space in 1983. Her success inspired Koch to become an astronaut as well. She was steadfast in her dream; Koch attended Space Camp as a teenager, enrolled in a competitive science and mathematics high school, and completed two bachelor’s degrees, one in physics and one in electrical engineering. She dedicated her young adult life to developing her mental and physical toughness, pursuing research opportunities in Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland, and American Samoa. In 2013, Koch joined NASA’s astronaut candidate program, and in 2019, she traveled to the International Space Station. Koch’s life and accomplishments demonstrate the invaluable power of role models like Sally Ride, especially when we’re young.

Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke is credited with coining the phrase “Me Too,” which later became a viral hashtag providing visibility and community for survivors of sexual assault. Burke was born in 1973 in New York City; her family was not wealthy, but she grew up in a household that valued its African American and immigrant roots. Her grandfather helped educate her in Black history and culture beyond what she learned in school. Burke suffered sexual violence as a young girl, but she determinedly fought through childhood trauma and became a dedicated scholar and activist. Through her work, she launched the “Me Too” movement, though no one could have predicted how the phrase would permeate modern culture as a rallying point for women to share their own stories. Burke continues to speak out for women and hopes to create a safer world where more women of color can comfortably speak out about their own trauma.

With Gale In Context: Biography and Gale In Context: For Educators, you and your students have everything you need for a truly impactful Women’s History Month. From athletes and pilots to inventors and astronauts, let’s learn about the women who helped change the world and continue to use their platforms to inspire progress and equality.

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