Girls Who Changed the World: Inspiration for Kids
As part of Women’s History Month, we learn about inspiring women from history, but it’s also important to teach kids – and girls especially – that they don’t have to wait to grow up to make a difference! Despite all of the obstacles in their path, many girls have made an impact, led by their idealism and courage. Here is a look at amazing girls who changed the world. Who inspires you?
Girls Who Changed the World
Who says you have to wait to make a difference? Inspire your kids with these stories of amazing girls who changed the world!
Joan of Arc (1412 – 1431)
Also known as the Maid of Orléans, French Sainte Jeanne d’Arc or La Pucelle d’Orléans, she was canonized by the Catholic church in 1920. Joan of Arc was a peasant girl who at 17 was inspired by visions to lead the French army to victory against the English at Orléans during the Hundred Years War. She was later captured and burned at the stake by the English. Her heroism and faith secured her a place in history, and she later became a symbol of French nationalism.
Pocahontas (1596 – 1617)
Powhatan woman who fostered peace between the English settlers of the Jamestown Colony and the Native Americans. Daughter of Wahunsenaca (Chief Powhatan), the paramount chief of the Powhatan Chiefdom. When Captain John Smith was captured, the 11 year old Pocahontas reportedly rushed in to stop his execution. She later saved Smith from another attempt on his life. In 1614 she converted to Christianity and married Englishman John Rolfe. She died from illness during a trip to England with her husband and young son.
Sacagawea (1788 – 1812)
Shoshone woman who at age 17 served as interpreter and guide for the 1805-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition, which explored thousands of miles of wilderness across the continental United States. She was the only female member of the expedition. Her language skills, knowledge of the terrain, and calm under duress were invaluable to the team. One time her boat nearly capsized in high winds, and Sacagawea rescued important papers and supplies. In addition, her presence helped calm the Native Americans they encountered, most of whom had never seen white men before. They were inclined to see the expedition as friendly because she was traveling with them. Remarkably, Sacagawea did all this while caring for her infant son, born just two months before the expedition began (!) At the end of the expedition Sacagawea received nothing, though her French-Canadian husband, who also served as an interpreter, received $500.33 and 320 acres of land.
A German Jewish girl famous for the diary she kept during WWII when she and her family were forced into hiding in an attempt to escape capture by the Nazis. When economic difficulties and a rise in anti-Semitism made life in Germany difficulty, Anne’s family had resettled in Amsterdam, yet soon after, in 1940, the Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis. After Anne’s older sister was called to report to a German work camp, Anne and her family went into hiding in a secret annex along with another family. After two years in hiding, they were discovered and arrested in August 1944. Only one of the group in hiding – Anne’s father – survived. Anne died of disease and deprivation in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her father later published Anne’s diary, still read around the world. The home where she and 7 others were in hiding was made into a museum in 1960.
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Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine
Ruby Bridges and the “Little Rock Nine” were students who integrated formerly all-white schools in the US following the historic 1954 Supreme Court ruling against segregation. In 1957, nine students (later known as the Little Rock Nine) integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Minnijean Brown (1941-), Elizabeth Eckford (1941-), Ernest Green (1941-), Thelma Mothershed (1940-), Melba Patillo (1941-), Gloria Ray (1942-), Terrence Roberts (1941-), Jefferson Thomas (1942-2010) and Carlotta Walls (1942-) were carefully chosen for their determination and strength of character. The governor called in the National Guard to block the students from entering, but several weeks later President Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort them into school. The following year the governor closed Little Rock’s high schools to prevent African-Americans from attending. The Little Rock Nine all completed high school via correspondence or by attending high school elsewhere. They each received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.
In 1960, Ruby Bridges, a 6 year old girl in Mississippi, became the first African American to integrate a formerly all-white elementary school in the US South. She had to be escorted into school by her mother and US marshals because of violent mobs. She spent her school days as the only student of the one teacher who would agree to teach her. She was not allowed to go to recess or to the cafeteria, and even had to be accompanied by US marshals down the hall just to use the restroom. Her bravery was memorialized in a 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell, “The Problem We All Live With.”
Mona Mahmudnizhad (1965 – 1983)
From early on, Mona Mahmudnizhad was known as an outstanding student who had genuine love for those around her. She was an enthusiastic member of her Bahá’í community and taught religious classes for children. Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, persecution of the members of the Bahá’í Faith and other minority religions intensified. In 1982 when Mona was a high school student, she and her father were among 40 Bahá’ís arrested in the city of Shiraz, as part of escalating arrests throughout the country. In June 1983 Mona was the youngest of ten Bahá’í women to be hanged. Her father had been executed earlier that year. Mona is remembered today as a model for Bahá’í youth everywhere because of her love, enthusiasm, and dedication. The Bahá’ís continue to face persecution in Iran, including arrests, closing of businesses, denial of higher education, and desecration of cemeteries.
Related Post: Inspiring Women from Bahá’í History
Samantha Smith (1972 – 1985)
American peace activist who in 1982 (at age 10) famously wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov, the new leader of the USSR. Worried about the possibility of a nuclear war, she asked Andropov what he would do to avoid this catastrophic possibility. Andropov himself eventually replied, praising Samantha and inviting her to visit the USSR. Known as America’s youngest Goodwill ambassador, in July 1983 she and her family spent two weeks touring the USSR. When she returned, Samantha gave numerous interviews, wrote a book, and hosted a television special. Tragically, she and her father were killed in a plane crash in 1985. The USSR honored her with a commemorative stamp and her mother established the Samantha Smith Foundation, dedicated to peace education.
Anisa Kintz (1983 – )
Alarmed by racial tensions in her hometown of Conway, SC, in 1992 nine year old Anisa organized a children’s conference on race, “Calling All Colors: A Race Unity Conference.” Inspired by the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith on racial unity, the conference brought together more than 400 children to discuss solutions to racism. Soon, the idea spread to other communities in SC and across the United States. President George H.W. Bush’s foundation to recognize volunteers named Anisa as one of its “Thousand Points of Light.” She participated in the 1997 Summit for the Future chaired by President Bill Clinton and was invited to address the United Nations forum. Calling All Colors conferences are still held across the US today.
Anoyara Khatum (1997 – )
At just 12 years old, Anoyara Khatum fell victim to human trafficking. When she was rescued from slavery, she was determined to make a difference for other children in her native India forced into marriage or work at a young age. She began working with the Save the Children foundation that have saved her. Anoyara began to educate girls and communities about child marriage and trafficking through the formation of children’s groups. Since then she has rescued scores of children from trafficking and child marriages and registered hundreds of children for school. In 2012 she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and has been invited to speak at the United Nations on two occasions.
Mo’ne Davis (2001 – )
Former Little League Baseball pitcher from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the first African-American girl to play in the Little League World Series and one of two girls to play in the 2014 Little League World Series. She was the first girl to earn a win and to pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history. She was also the first Little League baseball player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a Little League player. The 2014 ESPN broadcast of one of the Little League World Series games in which she played had the most television viewers ever for a Little League game on ESPN. In 2015 Mo’Ne received the Best Breakthrough Athlete ESPY Award.
Malala (1997 – )
Born in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, Malala first came to prominence in 2009, when at the age of 12 she started writing a blog for the BBC Urdu service about life under Taliban rule, including fears that her school would be attacked. Despite death threats, she continued to advocate for the importance of education, especially for girls. In 2011, she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. In 2012, she was shot by a masked gunman as she rode the bus home from school. The worldwide condemnation of this attempt on her life led to the swift ratification of Pakistan’s first Right To Free and Compulsory Education Bill. In 2013 she and her father founded the Malala Fund to advocate for girls and their right to education. Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Malala contributed her entire prize money of more than $500,000 to financing the creation of a secondary school for girls in Pakistan.
Share these stories of girls who changed the world with your kids! Which is your favorite?
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