Badass Ladies of History: Ten Teachers Who Made the World Better

In researching this topic, what I found most interesting was how many searches for famous or notable teachers came up with a list of dead white men.   The only women listed in the first several lists I saw were Maria Montessori and Ayn Rand.  Since I know there are hundreds of remarkable women who taught at some point in their lifetime, white women and women of color alike, I dug deeper. 

The following is a list of women who made a difference in the classroom and whose actions have changed the course of history.

1. Christa McAuliffe (September 2, 1948 ““ January 28, 1986)

Christa McAuliffe, originally from New Hampshire, was a high school social studies teacher.  Selected from over 11,000 candidates to be the first teacher in space in 1985, McAuliffe was part of the Challenger crew who perished when the shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launch.  McAuliffe’s legacy lives on in the many schools and scholarships which were named for her, and through the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, which was awarded to her posthumously in 2004.

2. Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 ““ May 6, 1952)

Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori is credited with developing a hands-on, student centered teaching method that is used successfully in public and private schools worldwide.  The Montessori method encourages self-guided exploration and discovery, and has proven especially successful with students in urban and low income districts.

3. Johanna “Anne” Mansfield Sullivan Macy (April 14, 1866 ““ October 20, 1936)

Annie Sullivan is remembered as “Teacher”, the educator who refused to believe that blind, deaf and mute pupil Helen Keller was unable to be educated.  Her patience and innovation are a model to many modern day special education teachers.

4. Harriet Martineau (1802-1876)

Harriet Martineau is credited with being the first woman sociologist, and changed the way the world viewed marriage, child rearing, the role of women in society and race relations.  A Unitarian and staunch member of the Whig party in her native England, Marineau led a fascinating and varied life, establishing friendships with such notables as Charles Darwin, Florence Nightengale and Charlotte Brontë.  Known for royally pissing off the Tories, Martineau wrote over 50 books in her lifetime.   Martineau, very ill at the end of her life, even wrote her own obituary a few days before her death.

Her original power was nothing more than was due to earnestness and intellectual clearness within a certain range. With small imaginative and suggestive powers, and therefore nothing approaching to genius, she could see clearly what she did see, and give a clear expression to what she had to say. In short, she could popularize while she could neither discover nor invent.

5. Charlotte Mason (1842-1923)

Charlotte Mason was revolutionary British educator who believed that all children were ‘persons’ and therefore due materials that were neither dumbed down for them or designed by committee.  She believed in a rigorous curriculum with engaging, challenging texts.  Including art, music, poetry and nature studies in her curriculum made Mason a bit of a rebel in her time.  Her methods are still studied and have experienced a recent resurgence as part of the home schooling movement.

6. Hallie Quinn Brown (1845 ““ 1949)

Hallie Quinn Brown was an educator, an activist and a writer who originally hailed from Pennsylvania.  She went on to teach and eventually serve in an administrative capacity at Tuskegee Institute under Frederick Douglass.  One of her books, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction, is a detailed collection of biographies of notable black women through history.  It can be read in it’s entirety by clicking the title, as an online copy is maintained by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

7. Charlotte Angas Scott (8 June 1858 ““ 10 November 1931)

Charlotte Angas Scott was a British mathematician who believed in a solid mathematics education, especially for women.  After being denied a degree in her native England due to her gender, Scott went on to become the first woman to ever receive a doctoral degree.  After moving to the US, Scott taught math at Bryn Mawr from 1885 to 1917, during which time she helped countless other women achieve doctoral degrees in mathematics.

8. Marjorie Lee Browne (9 Sept 1914-19 Oct 1979)

Another mathematician, Marjorie Lee Browne was the first black woman to be awarded a doctorate in mathematics, closely followed by Evelyn Boyd Granville, who earned her mathematics doctorate later in 1949 than did Browne.  Browne went on to teach math at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), where she applied for and received a $60,000 grant from IBM to install a computer system in the early 1970’s.  NCCU was among the first colleges to have such a system, and quite possibly the first historically black colleges to have one.

9. Inez Beverly Prosser (December 30, 1895 – 1934)

Inez Beverly Prosser was the first black woman to earn a PhD in Psychology in 1933.  Prosser went on to be a powerful advocate for providing the best quality education for black students, and wrote her dissertation on the benefits of a segregated education from the perspective of black pupils, believing segregated schools allowed black students to develop a cultural history away from the threat and cruelty of white students.  Tragically killed in an accident in 1934, Inez Beverly Prosser’s passion for her students and education lives on in principles of modern day school reform.

10. Ella Flagg Young (15 January 1845 – October 26, 1918)

Ella Flagg Young was the first woman to be elected as the superintendent of a large, urban school district when she headed Chicago’s public school system from 1909 until 1915.  She was among the first women to serve on a school board, and she was the first woman president of the National Education Association from 1910-1911.

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[E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

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