Top 5 Underrated Women in History

Olivia Sperbeck, Sports Editor

Throughout history, many noteworthy women have influenced the modern world. Students rarely get to learn about these women’s accomplishments and how they have helped break down barriers for other women to excel in their fields. Here are five women whose role in history was concealed, rather than being spotlighted. 


  1. Sally Ride


Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. While studying for her Ph. D. at Stanford University, NASA sent out an application for engineers and astronauts. Ride eagerly applied with 8,000 other candidates. She was one of six women chosen for the program. 

When she worked for NASA, she trained to become an astronaut. This entailed parachute jumping, navigation and radio communications. During this time, she worked as a communications officer on the ground, where she relayed messages from mission control to space shuttle crews. When her year-long training was over, she blasted into space on June 18, 1983, where she operated a robot arm to retrieve a satellite. 

After she retired from NASA in 2001, she co-founded Sally Ride Science, a nonprofit to introduce middle school and highschool students into STEM subjects, to inspire the next generation of women and minorities in STEM. She stood as the CEO of the foundation until she died in 2012. 


  1. Nellie Bly


Nellie Bly was a journalist in the late 1800s. Starting out at the Pittsburg Dispatch as a columnist, she would eventually be given the opportunity to travel in Mexico to report on the conditions of the people in the country along with corruption. She was eventually kicked out of the country as her articles criticizing different topics in the country angered Mexican officials. 

She left the Pittsburgh Dispatch for The New York World in search of something new during her career. During the time she was there, her editor challenged her to write a news story on one of New York’s famous mental hospitals. To get a deeper understanding, Bly put herself in the same shoes as those in the hospitals. Her methods led to the creation of investigative journalism, a practice used by many journalists today. 


  1. Sojourner Truth

A slave turned activist, Sojourner Truth advocated for causes such as woman’s suffrage and abolition of slavery. After she escaped slavery in 1827, she moved to New York City and worked for a local preacher. She became a charismatic speaker and participated in popular religious revivals. Her popularity skyrocketed, and soon she was meeting with influential speakers such as William Lloyd Garrison who encouraged her to give speeches about her stance against slavery. 

In 1850, she dictated her autobiography to Olive Gilbert that brought her national recognition. Since she could not read or write, Gilbert had to write the book for her. 

Her popularity among women’s rights activists increased when she delivered her “Ain’t I A Woman” speech, at her lecture tour in Akron, Ohio, where she challenged racism and misogyny. Her speech was unique in the way she highlighted her strength and position as an African American woman. As a successful black woman during the Civil War, she turned racial and gender norms upside down.


  1. Maria Winkelmann

Maria Winkelmann was a groundbreaking astronomer who participated in the Scientific Revolution. She was the first woman to discover a comet, but because German society during the Renaissance looked down upon women in the field of science, her husband was credited with her discovery. 

She also wrote many self-published papers, her most famous one being written in 1709, which was her pamphlet on the conjunction of Venus and Saturn with the sun. This gained her respect in the astronomical community in Germany. However, when her husband died, his position as calendar maker and astronomer at the Academy of Science was not given to Winkelmann, even though she was arguably the better astronomer. 


  1. Madame CJ Walker

Madame CJ Walker was the first American self-made millionaire. Her fortune came from her homemade hair products designed specifically for black women. After she left her abusive husband, her life as a single mom was stressful. So stressful, that her hair began to fall out. Her own experience with hair loss led her to produce products like hair grower, Glossine and vegetable shampoo. Since most of her competitors were not Black, they did not understand her and her community’s hair type as well as Walker. Brilliantly designed and marketed, Walker’s products gained her a loyal following of African-American women who wanted to create their own beauty standards.

It was crucial for Walker to maintain an impeccable reputation in the entrepreneurial world in the late 1800s. As a black woman, she was vastly outnumbered by white men. She worked hard to preserve her image, while also staying true to herself. Walker always put her workers first, and donated a large amount of her wealth so that women and minorities could be benefitted. She funded scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In addition, she donated to organizations like the Black YMCA, and dozens of other charities that preserved black history.