If I asked you to name ten key historical figures, who would be on your list? How many of them would be women? For millennia, women have shouldered most of the domestic responsibilities, leaving men “free” to lead nations, fight wars, and leave a lasting mark on history. But if you look for them, you can find the women who have left a mark on history, and you can and should teach women’s history to your children.
Why teach about the inspiring women of history?
The Bible gives us a model to follow as it includes women’s story quite often. You know the stories of Mary the mother of Jesus, Ruth the Moabite, Hannah, Queen Esther, Rahab, Tamar, Bathsheba, and others. Some of these women are unlikely heroes, but God portrays His grace in their lives by redeeming all of their stories.
Both boys and girls, need to see the possibilities for what they might accomplish in their lives. Sometimes ordinary people can have an extraordinary impact. Women especially must often overcome barriers to make such an impact. Women have worked alongside men since the beginning, and it is important to acknowledge the contributions they have made throughout women’s history, so young girls can envision themselves making a difference, and young boys can recognize the difference that women have and can make in the world.
Who would be considered an inspirational woman?
A great homeschool curriculum will have found and highlighted many influential women worth learning about. But if you feel that you need to supplement the curriculum by looking for more women’s history to learn about, what should you be looking for?
- Women who accomplished an extraordinary feat. Amelia Earhart was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Junko Tabei was the first woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.
- Women who contributed significantly to an important discovery. You may have heard of James Watson and Francis Crick, who built the first double helix model of DNA. But have you heard of Rosalind Franklin, who obtained the first X-ray crystallography images of DNA, which were instrumental to this discovery?
- Women who revolutionized standard practices. Virginia Apgar developed a rapid scoring system for newborns (the Apgar score) that dramatically reduced infant mortality.
- Women who have endured hardship. Anne Frank’s famous war-time diary gives a glimpse into a young Jew’s life during the Second World War. Bethany Hamilton lost her arm in a shark attack while surfing, and she came back to win national surfing titles because she never gave up.
- Women who are unlikely heroes. Maya Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as an undergraduate at Yale. Josephine Baker was a performer turned spy in WWII France.
- Women who have won Nobel prizes. Madame Curie is the only woman to have been honored twice with Nobel prizes in Physiology or Medicine. Mother Teresa was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel website holds a full list of all female honorees.
Addressing Feminism from a Biblical Worldview
The Bible is clear that men and women are different, and both are important to God. God established a patriarchal society for Old Testament Israel, and it is clear from New Testament Scripture that He still intends for men to lead. Because men are sinful, their domination naturally turns into oppression over and over again throughout history. Feminism is a human attempt at battling that oppression. However it can and does easily go too far when the movement seeks to put men down and promote a sexual revolution. As with all aspects of life, we should consider the feminist movement in light of Scripture. Affirm elements of the movement that agree with Scripture (e.g. oppression of women is sinful), but reject elements of the movement that disagree with Scripture (e.g. women are better than men).
Tips for Teaching about Women’s History
Read your children captivating stories about women in history. Use primary sources whenever possible. These are photos, documents, and drawings from the era that depict life as it was. If you make a timeline of the world, be sure to include women in your entries.
Spotlight Different Professions
You might incorporate great women of history in multiple subjects by highlighting their professions.
- Study women scientists or doctors in Science class, especially when their accomplishments fit into your topic of study. Marie Curie was known for her study of radiation and discovery of radium and polonium, so she would fit into a study of the periodic table of the elements, cancer treatments using radiation, or radiocarbon dating methods in geology.
- Novelists and poets naturally fit into your Literature class. You can read Little Women, but spending some time studying the life of the author, Louisa May Alcott, adds depth to your study. The famous poetry of Emily Dickinson takes on new life when you learn more about her place in history.
- Study the contributions of female mathematicians in Mathematics. How did Ada Lovelace become the first computer programmer? Navy Commodore Grace Hopper used a foot-long piece of wire as a visual aid for why satellite communications took so long. That is the distance the signal can travel in a nanosecond.
- Study influential women of history without a profession. Rosa Parks would not give up her seat on the bus. Joan of Arc became an unlikely military leader in 15th century France, a martyr to her cause at age 19, and was eventually canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.
Showcase Historical Figures
The following female historical figures are featured in the BJU Press curriculum:
- American Republic (4th ed., 8th Grade)
- Dorothea Dix (pg. 227) was the first mental health advocate, establishing hospitals and asylums where the mentally ill could be treated.
- Harriet Tubman (pg. 258) was an American abolitionist, born into slavery, who later rescued many slaves through the Underground Railroad.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe (pg. 263) was an American author and abolitionist, known for writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel that gives a glimpse into the slaves’ experience.
- Dolley Madison promoted bipartisan cooperation in the early American government as the wife of 4th president James Madison.
- Clara Barton (pg. 282) founded the American Red Cross, which is still a renowned emergency-response organization today.
- United States History (5th ed., 11th Grade)
- Susan B Anthony (pg. 393), commemorated on a United States coin, did not live to see the passage of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote, but women today still leave their “I voted” stickers at her grave to commemorate her contribution to that right.
- Amelia Earhart (pg. 488) was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic and mysteriously disappeared during her trip around the globe in 1937.
- Rosa Parks (pg. 548) became a key figure in the American civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama in 1955.
- Making Connections in Literature (4th ed., 8th Grade)
- Louisa May Alcott: Little Women Excerpt (pgs. 365-380). Louisa May Alcott was an abolitionist, author and activist who worked her way out of poverty from a young age.
- Amy Carmichael Jesus Always Remembers and Rose from Brier (pg. 141). Amy Carmichael opened an orphanage in India to protect women and children from trafficking and abuse.
- Elements of Literature (2nd ed., 10th Grade)
- Emily Dickinson: A Bird Came Down the Walk (pg. 6). Emily Dickinson was regarded as strange during her life, and she did not become well-known until after she died. She reportedly refused to do housework because it never ended.
- American Literature (3rd ed., 11th Grade)
- Anne Bradstreet (pgs. 61-68) was a Puritan poet in colonial America. Some would consider her to be an early feminist based on her writings about her struggles as a woman.
- Emily Dickinson (pgs. 338-346)
Include women you would not always agree with.
Rahab was a woman of ill repute and Tamar dressed like one. Both are included in the genealogy of Christ. Using the Bible as our model, we can find value in learning about women we would not necessarily have agreed with. Use the opportunity to teach your children biblical discernment. Just like with feminism, you can affirm what is good about these women’s lives and reject what is not.
Celebrate March as Women’s History Month
March is women’s history month. Each year in March, make it a priority to learn more about at least one significant woman in history. See if you can find one that is not in your history books. Maybe you will choose a woman who is still living but has already had an impact. If you are a prolific reader, there is no shortage of great women you will cross paths with. Choose one for you and your children to study further. You will not regret the investment of time to learn about women who have changed the world.
• • • • •Valerie is a wife and a mother to a very busy preschooler. In her free time she enjoys reading all kinds of books. She earned a B.S. in Biology from Bob Jones University, minoring in Mathematics, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics from Ohio State University. Valerie has 15 years of experience working in research laboratories and has coauthored 8 original research articles. She has also taught several classes and laboratories at the high school and college levels. She currently works as a Data Analyst and a freelance writer.