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Feminist Fact Friday – 5 Ways To Get Girls Inspired About STEM

Everywhere you look these days (and especially if you work in education) people are talking about STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM careers, STEM job creation, STEM college majors… And with good reason. Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math tend to be in high demand and provide lucrative compensation. They have also tended to be male-dominated. Many people argue that the gender-wage gap is at least partly a result of the under-representation of women in these fields.


Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American woman in space.
Photo credit: NASA

If we going to close this gap, part of the solution will be attracting more girls and women to these careers. But how? One major tactic is a take on the adage “If you can see it, you can be it.” Dr. Mae Jemison, former NASA astronaut and the first African American woman in space once wrote that she was inspired to apply to NASA by seeing actress Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. These days, girls are lucky that they don’t have to limit their sources of inspiration to fictional characters. There are already many smart and successful women working in these fields who can inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Here are 5 cool ways women are working to get girls and young women excited about STEM:

Women@NASA – Formed in conjunction with the creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls, this program’s website contains essays, bios, and videos of women working in various divisions at NASA. They tell stories of how they were inspired to work in their fields (most of which are science-related), what obstacles they faced, and thank the people who mentored their careers. They are single mothers, former political refugees, women who left other careers after discovering their passion for science later in life, PhDs who moonlight as musicians, athletes, and more.  Not all of these women attended elite universities. NASA’s outreach now includes recruiting male and female employees who started their education at community college STEM programs (as one of the scientists on the Mars Rover team did). Women@NASA is a great tool for skewering the perception of what a “typical scientist” looks like and it’s worth sharing with any child who shows an interest in science or the space program.

Aspire 2 Inspire and NASA GIrls/NASA Boys – These two related programs from NASA aim to extend the reach of the Women@NASA program into communities and homes. First, Aspire 2 Inspire (A2I) created a series of short films about the most innovative work being done in STEM fields at NASA and elsewhere to give students an idea of what these careers are like. Secondly, A2I provides age-appropriate materials to schools, museums, and other local groups so they can recruit science-loving kids to work on projects together, building their skills. NASA Girls/NASA Boys pairs middle school students of both genders with NASA employees for a five-week mentoring program conducted via Google Chat or Skype. (Admit it, grownups, you wish you could apply. Sorry, grades 5 through 8 only.)

Sally Ride Science – Founded by the late Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Sally Ride Science offers a variety of educational programs designed to engage middle school girls. They run one-day science festivals in different cities each year, annual summer science camps for girls, and provide classroom materials on science-related topics such as climate change and space exploration.

Danica McKellar’s Math Books for Girls – Readers over a certain age may remember Danica McKellar for her role as Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years.” While navigating that tricky transition from child actor to adulthood, McKellar graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with a degree in mathematics. She then set about finding a way to get more girls interested in this field to counter what she calls “damaging social messages that tell young girls science and math aren’t for them.” The result was a best-selling series of books targeted at middle school and high school girls: Math Doesn’t Suck, Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss, Hot X: Algebra Exposed, and Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.

I have to admit that from reading the titles alone, I was worried that McKellar was trading in the same gender stereotypes she was aiming to dispel. I really didn’t think much of these books…until I showed them to my middle school-aged daughter and her friend one day in a bookstore. I had a hard time getting them to look at anything else once they started reading those books. They are both fairly good at math already but they absolutely loved the format and the language. Math books that girls can’t put down? OK, you have my attention. Both said they liked that the books didn’t talk about math as something they were supposed to hate. That comment in particular made me rethink both my preconception of the books and the way that I personally talk about math around my daughter.


STEM-related badges for Girl Scouts.
Photo credit: Girl Scouts of the USA

Girl Scouts – The Girl Scouts aren’t about to be left out of any conversation about expanding opportunities for girls. Brownies and juniors now can work towards such STEM-related badges as Naturalist, Digital Art, Science and Technology, and Innovation. In addition, they’ve partnered with the National Science Foundation and several U.S. technology companies to provide mentoring and financial sponsorship of Girl Scout teams in local and national science, engineering, and robotics competitions.

Know about a cool way to get all kids interested in STEM? Tell us in the comments here or on our Facebook page.

-Admin Pattie

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Feminist Fact Friday – First in Firefighting

There are few professions that have a more masculine public perception than professional firefighting. It is true that firefighters in the United States are still predominately male, however the history of female firefighters goes back further than you think.

Aspiring female firefighters in their gear at Camp Blaze, a non-profit  organization dedicated to training and helping women advance in fire service.  Photo credit: CampBlaze.com

Aspiring female firefighters in their gear at Camp Blaze, a non-profit organization dedicated to training and helping women advance in fire service.
Photo credit: CampBlaze.com

According to the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services, the first known American female firefighter worked for Oceanus Engine Company #11 in New York City in 1818. She was an enslaved African American woman named Molly Williams. She was not paid for her service and was known to the other firefighters as “Volunteer #11.”

The first woman known to be paid for fighting fires was Sandra Forcier, who was hired as a Public Safety Officer – a combination firefighter and police officer – by the City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1973. She rose to the rank of Battalion Chief and retired from the department in 2004.

The first American woman to be hired exclusively as a firefighter was Judith Livers, who was hired by the Arlington County, VA Fire Department in 1974. She also rose to the rank of Battalion Chief before she retired in 1999.

There are currently 6,200 full-time career female firefighters in the United States and an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 female volunteer firefighters. However, women still account for less than 5% of all American fighters.  To help grow those numbers, organizations like iWomen and Camp Blaze have developed active training camps for young women who are interested in fire service. Such camps provide both physical training and science education to help women meet the rigorous requirements of fire department testing.

For more information, please visit websites of the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

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Feminist Fact Friday – Famous Firsts By American Women

by Admin Pattie

In observation of the first day of Women’s History Month, today’s Feminist Fact Friday is highlighting a selection of American women whose firsts made history in their respective fields. Their firsts helped redefine what was possible for women to achieve. Many of these woman had been told that the fields they worked in were the sole domains of men and that they would be better served doing something else. To their credit, and to our benefit, they didn’t listen.

We’ve provided links to resources where you can find out more about each woman and her achievements. Some of these women may have been featured in previous editions of Feminist Fact Friday, however, if there’s a woman we haven’t featured and you’d like to see a longer post about her in the future, please tell us in the comments here or on our Facebook page.


Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R-MT)

First Woman elected to U.S. Congress
Jeannette Pickering Rankin (R-MT)
Served in the U.S. House of Representatives: March 4, 1917 – March 3, 1919 and January 3, 1941 – January 3, 1943

First Woman to run for President of the United States
Victoria Claflin Woodhull
Nominated as a candidate for President by the Equal Rights Party in 1872.

First Woman elected to the U.S. Senate
Hattie Wyatt Caraway (D-AR)
Served in the U.S. Senate: December 9, 1931 – January 3, 1945

First Woman to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi (D-CA)
Served as Speaker of the House: January 4, 2007 – January 3, 2011

First Woman to serve in the Cabinet of a U.S. President
Frances Perkins
Served as Secretary of Labor to President Franklin Roosevelt: March 4, 1933 – June 30, 1945

First Woman to serve as Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court
Sandra Day O’Connor
Served as Justice: September 21, 1981 – January 31, 2006

First Woman to win a Presidential Primary
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Won the New Hampshire Democratic Primary in 2008.


Dr. Sally Ride
Photo credit: NASA

First Woman to receive a Medical Degree in the U.S.

Elizabeth Blackwell
Received her degree from Geneva Medical College on January 23, 1849.

First American Woman to receive a Nobel Prize in a scientific field
Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori
Received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947

First American Woman in space
Sally Ride
Entered low Earth orbit as a crew member on the Space Shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983.

First Woman to be named U.S. Surgeon General
Antonia Novello
Served as Surgeon General: March 9, 1990 – June 30, 1993

First Woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Edith Wharton
Won the Pulitzer in 1921 for The Age of Innocence.

First American Woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature
Pearl S. Buck
Won the Nobel Prize in 1938 for her body of work.

First Woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
Julia Ward Howe
Elected to the Academy in 1908.

First Woman to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate
Mona Van Duyn
Served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1992 to 1993.



Janet Guthrie
Photo credit: Janetguthrie.com

First American woman to win an Olympic gold medal
Margaret Abbott
Won the gold medal in golf at the 1900 Olympics in Paris.

First Woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby
Diane Crump
Rode in the 1970 Kentucky Derby.

First Woman to race in the Indianapolis 500.
Janet Guthrie
First qualified for and competed in the 1977 Indianapolis 500.

First Woman to win the Women’s Olympic Marathon
Joan Benoit
Won the first women’s marathon event at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.


Madame C.J. Walker

Madame C.J. Walker aka Sarah Breedlove

First woman granted a patent in the U.S.
Mary Keis
Granted a patent in 1809 for a technique of weaving straw with silk and thread.

First American woman to become a self-made millionaire
Madame C.J. Walker (aka Sarah Breedlove)
Founded a company that manufactured hair care products in 1908.

First woman to serve as a director of a major U.S. corporation
Leticia Pate Whitehead
Served on the Board of Directors of the Coca-Cola Company for 20 years, beginning in 1934.

First woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company
Katherine Graham
Served as CEO of the Washington Post Company from 1973 to 1991.

For more information about milestones in women’s history, check out this amazing list of resources and teaching tools assembled by the New York Times Learning Network.

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Feminist Fact Friday: Ella Baker


Ella Baker, unsung heroine of the American Civil Rights movement.
Photo used under Creative Commons Media license.

“Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.” – Ella Baker

Ella J. Baker is one of the unsung heroines of the American Civil Rights Movement. Lesser than known than male counterparts like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Baker worked for and/or helped found many of the many civil rights organizations we know of today during the her five-decades long career.

Baker grew up up in Virginia and North Carolina, listening to stories of slave revolts from her grandparents. After graduating from Shaw University as class valedictorian, she became active in social activism, first working for the Young Negroes Cooperative League before obtaining a position at the NAACP as a field secretary. In this role, she organized boycotts, raised money, registered voters, and traveled through the South, building a network of black churches and smaller activist organizations.

In 1957, she was part of the team of activists who helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and build on the momentum created by the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Though Baker was integral to the operations of the SCLC, she was never given the title of permanent director, largely because the organization preferred to have male ministers in that role.  Baker did serve as interim director from 1958 to 1960.

In 1960, Baker witnessed the courage of four North Carolina A&T students sitting in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC and felt compelled to focus her activism on working with young people. She left the SCLC and, with the students, helped found Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  Under her guidance, SNCC focused on promoting civil rights through nonviolent direct action and voter registration.  Her guidance to the young people of SNCC had such a profound impact that she was nicknamed “Fundi” – a Swahili word that, loosely translated, means “mentor to new generations.”

In later years, Baker lent her voice and experience to broader progressive causes including  the Puerto Rican independence movement, the anti-apartheid movement for South Africa, and women’s poverty in developing countries. She died in 1986.

Learn more about Ella Baker:
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker film
Oral History Interview with Ella Baker from “Oral Histories of the American South”