A child could be forgiven for thinking that all those who have made great contributions to society are men. After all, when they learn about scientists, they learn about Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. When they learn about art, it is Van Gogh and Picasso. Black History Month is practically dominated by names such as Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. That is not to say that women are entirely excluded from the conversation because Rosa Parks and Marie Curie are practically household names and rightfully so. However, why are there so few women recognised for their achievements in the mainstream consciousness?
This lack of female presence cultivates this narrative that men do all the big things, while women are simply invisible except for an exceptional few. But we know this is not the case. Women ARE history makers! They can be creative, they can be strong, they can be smart often whilst overcoming the sexist treatment that they are subjected to.
As a child, I wish I knew of these amazing women who excelled in fields ranging from science and engineering to art and literature. In 2021, no one can argue about the benefits of representation. The absolute joy of seeing someone like you doing something and feeling like a doorway to a new world has opened to you. For how can we hope to emulate what we cannot see?
That is why I was so happy when I discovered Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders book series. Harrison’s book series aimed at young children includes many profiles of extraordinarily talented and influential women accompanied by beautiful illustrations. By reading her books, I learned about female artists, dancers, inventors, and activists that I have never heard of before. Here are some of them:
A Trinidadian-British journalist and activist responsible for setting up the first weekly black newspaper in the UK called the West Indian Gazette. Additionally, she was heavily involved in the creation of the first Carnival in London established in 1959 as a unifying response to ongoing violent racist attacks that were taking place at the time. This carnival was the precursor to the largest celebration of Caribbean culture outside of the Caribbean known as the Notting Hill Carnival.
An American painter and colourist who worked for Walt Disney and was one of his favourite artists. She worked in visual development on films like Cinderella (1950) and Alice in Wonderland (1951). While working for Disney Animation, she successfully pleaded her case to Walt Disney himself to be placed on a team headed to South America aiming to promote goodwill on behalf of the US. Furthermore, she designed the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride as a personal request from Walt Disney. Blair’s design was so popular that Walt replicated it in the Californian Disneyland resort.
Bessie Blount Griffin
Griffin was an American physical therapist and inventor who helped injured soldiers during the Second World War. She was much loved by the soldiers that she helped that they nicknamed her ‘Wonder Woman’. Griffin later invented tools to help them become self-sufficient such as a feeding tube that allowed users to control it, then donated the patent to the French government. Later in life, she retrained as a Forensic Scientist.
These are but a few of the remarkable women whose stories are featured in Harrison’s book. The three women I mentioned show that many paths are available to women. Furthermore, it shows that there are no limits to what young girls can become if they work hard and have determination. I wish that there were books like this around when I was growing up. However, these books mark a change in society. Women are no longer invisible in the eyes of society but valued for their contributions.
A little late, but is it ever too late to inspire?
Books in the Little Leaders Series
Little Leaders: Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Would like to learn more about the author? Click here, for the website
She also drew all the beautiful illustrations in her book! Want to see click here