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Ian de Jager
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Famous firsts for women

21 August 2014, 16:11

In celebrating women’s month this August, Trivia SA has a look at some awe-inspiring women starting way back when in 1903 – just to remind you how amazing women are and have been throughout history. If you’re a woman and you simply want to bask in all the feminine glory – please go ahead. Because you’re courageous, beautiful, brilliant, sexy and amazing.

We salute you.

The full article - including photos, quotes and movie trailers – is available at Trivia SA’s website.

Marie Curie, radioactive ethicist

Marie Curie made history in 1903 when she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in physics, and the only woman to win the award in two different fields (physics and chemistry). Curie’s efforts, with her husband Pierre Curie, led to the discovery of polonium and radium and, after Pierre’s death, the development of X-rays.

A top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the men-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw’s “floating university,” a set of underground, informal classes held in secret.

In late 1891 Curie left Poland for France, where she completed her masters degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year.

All of her years of working with radioactive materials took a toll on Curie’s health. She was known to carry test tubes of radium around in the pocket of her lab coat.

The ‘arresting’ Annette Kellerman

Annette Kellerman was arrested in Boston in 1907 for wearing a one-piece bathing suit which was considered in violation of the decency standards of the community.

Her life story was made into the 1952 film “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952) starring Esther Williams. An important scene in the film shows Annette being the scandal at a Boston beach for wearing a one-piece bathing suit in public. This act helped change the attitude of female beach-goers, who in the past wore billowy dress-like swimwear instead of more-revealing, less-dangerous swimsuits.

A scene of hers in A Daughter of the Gods (1916) is believed to be the first nude appearance in a major movie.

She was born with crippled legs, but overcame her handicap through swimming.

She made three attempts to swim the English Channel. They were unsuccessful but her determination added to her popularity.

Maud Wagner, the tempting tattoo artist

A circus performer (aerialist and contortionist), Maud Wagner was the first known female tattoo artist in the United States of America.

She exchanged a romantic date with her future husband Gus (a tattooist) for a lesson in tattooing, and several years later they were married. As an apprentice of her husband, Wagner learned how to give traditional “hand-poked” tattoos – despite the invention of the tattoo machine – and became a tattooist herself. Together, the Wagners were two of the last tattoo artists to work by hand, without the aid of modern tattoo machines.

The glamorous Gertrude Ederle

American swimmer Gertrude Ederle achieved fame when she competed in the 1924 Olympics and became the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926.

In 1927, she starred in the silent movie “Swim Girl, Swim” as herself.

After suffering a severe back injury in 1933, she was never able to compete again.

Alluring aviator Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and was the first pilot, man or woman, to fly unaccompanied across the Pacific. In Amelia’s attempt to be the first to fly around the world in an equatorial flight her life was tragically cut short when her Lockheed Electra disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on June 2, 1937.

Within hours, rescue workers began scouring the area for signs of the famed aviator and her navigator, Fred Noonan. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard launched the largest and most expensive air and sea search in American history. When their efforts failed, Earhart’s husband of six years, George Putnam, financed his own search but came up equally empty-handed. A living legend had vanished into thin air.

Aviatrix Sabiha Gökçen

Sabiha Gökçen was the world’s first female fighter pilot, and the first Turkish female combat pilot, aged 23.

The second international airport of Istanbul, Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, on the Asian side, is named after her.

Sabiha’s surname “Gökçen” means ‘belonging or relating to the sky’ in Turkish.

Kathrine Switzer, marathon woman

Kathrine Switzer is best known as the woman who challenged the all-male tradition of the 1967 Boston Marathon and became the first woman to officially enter and run the event despite being physically attacked by a race official.

Irate race official Jock Semple tried forcibly to remove Kathrine Switzer from the then all-male Boston Marathon simply because she was a woman. Luckily for Switzer, her boyfriend bounced the official out of the race instead and she went on to finish.

As a television commentator, she has covered the Olympics, world and national championships; the New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles marathons; and every televised edition of the Boston Marathon for 36 consecutive years. And, at age 67, she still runs marathons.

Sally Ride, final frontier woman

In 1983, astronaut and astrophysicist Sally Ride became the first American woman in space aboard the space shuttle Challenger. As a mission specialist, she helped deploy satellites and worked on other projects. She returned to Earth on June 24.

Anna Fisher – not your average mom

In 1984, Anna Fisher became the first mother in space. She is currently the oldest active American astronaut.

Her training class, the first female astronauts recruited by NASA, included Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, and Judith Resnik, who died when the Challenger space shuttle was destroyed during launch in January 1986.

Fisher was so committed to the space program, that when she was assigned to her first flight two weeks before giving birth to her oldest child, she delivered Kristin on a Friday and was back in the office three days later for a Monday meeting.

Elspeth Beard, biker babe

In 1984, Elspeth Beard completed a trip around the world on a used 1974 BMW R 60/6 flat-twin motorcycle that had more than 48,000 kilometers on it even before the trip began.

The then twenty-four year old Elspeth began her journey in New York. She had several accidents, her belongings were stolen, and she got hepatitis and dysentery before her trip ended in London three years later. She lost 24 kilograms on the trip and added 77,000 kilometers to her R60's odometer. The bike is – remarkably – still in running order.

Elspeth is one of a very small number of women to have circled the globe on a motorcycle and was the first British woman to do so.

Maryam Mirzakhani, mathematician on a mission

In August 2014, Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian maths professor at Stanford University in California, was named the first female winner of the Fields Medal. The Fields Medal is often described as the Nobel prize for mathematics, and was established in 1936.

Maryam’s brilliance was noted in her teens when she won gold at both the 1994 and the 1995 International Mathematical Olympiad, and was the first Iranian to complete the competition with perfect results.

The full article - including photos, quotes and movie trailers – is available at Trivia SA’s website.

Trivia SA provides South Africans with interesting and lesser-known facts about our beautiful country, and the world around us.

Come and smell the braaivleis at our website, or even better – like our Facebook page where we regularly post awesome facts.

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