Women Have a History


“History is no longer just a chronicle of kings and statesmen, of people who wielded power, but of ordinary women and men engaged in manifold tasks. Women’s history is an assertion that women have a history.”

~Aparna Basu, Professor of History at the University of Delhi, India

And what a history it is!

From warriors like Boudica, Zenobia, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, and Fallen Leaf, to scientists like Ada Lovelace, Lise Meitner, Hypatia, and Shirley Anne Jackson, history has boasted extraordinary women who have blazed trails and distinguished themselves as astronauts, spies, artists, inventors. Women have showed up in history as rulers, healers, educators, as pioneers in the fields of medicine, political science, and social justice.

A citation of the Nobel Prize Committee agrees that “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” Did you know that women have been awarded Nobel Prizes in all fields, Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economic Science 46 times, with Marie Curie owning the distinction of being the only person to win twice, with an award in two different sciences?

The Mudroom is asserting that women have a history.

After reading The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder I wanted to highlight the national collective remembrance that is Women’s History Month. It is a novel that has the Rape of Nanking at its center, bringing together the stories of two people, a young woman and an old man, generations apart, who have been forever changed by this military atrocity.

I love reading novels like this because they give me a jumping off point to delve deeper into history. The aforementioned book piqued my interest in the story of China’s occupation by Japanese forces in 1937. I found a documentary on Netflix simply titled, Nanking. There were interviews with Japanese soldiers, Chinese soldiers and citizens, as well as actors reciting passages from the journals of Europeans and Americans who stayed behind when most of the politicians, aristocracy, and foreigners fled for their lives.

There was a woman. One woman. She stayed. She stood against this horde of brutal soldiers, protecting women and children at the risk of rape, torture, and death. Have you heard of this woman? Neither had I.

A woman this brave and selfless deserves to be remembered, her name should be writ large in history books, articles, blog posts, and in our hearts and minds.

This happened only 78 years ago. Your great, great, great grandparents may have read about her in a newspaper or heard her story on the radio. You will read about her this month and I promise you, her name will stay with you.

There are countless other women, long forgotten, who have paved the way for us in science, politics, literature, education, social justice, medicine, sports, and the military. Women who won awards, medals, honors, and distinctions but have since faded from the limelight but need to be honored again.

I want to know their names.

I thought it important to discover some lesser-known women who have faded from history but should still be remembered, like the girl from rural Illinois who became a teacher in China and stood in front of a bayonet to protect women and children.

Let’s assert our history this month.


Originally posted on March 1, 2015.

Tammy Perlmutter
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