Kickass Women

History is filled with women doing all kinds of kickass stuff.

Smart Girls

Watch these girls... they're going places!


Need a dose of inspiration? Here you go.

SRPS Entertainment

Some of my entertainment recommendations with awesome female characters and stars.

She's Crafty!

Some of the awesome items made by kickass women!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Smart Girls: smashing stereotypes, one robot at a time

The really cool thing about being a self-rescuing princess is that you get to do sooooo many super fun things, and never care whether they've been deigned "for girls" or "not for girls" by some stuffy old windbags acting as the Gender Police. Fun stuff like building robots to take over the world! Mwahahaha!

Oh, wait... I mean... not take over the world. Just fun, friendly little robots that scoop up balls and throw them into baskets. Yeah. That's totally what I meant.

But seriously, check out these six smarties, the Rubies, and their awesome AND adorable robot! Left to right: Ava, Rachel, Adelaide, Izzie, Isabella, and Mitra. Together, they make up the Rubies FTC Team #9890, the first all-girl robotics team from Minneapolis, Minnesota. As part of the Velocity Vortex challenge, they compete against other students their age, as each team designs, builds, and programs a robot to play a floor game against other teams’ robots. It's a challenge that requires a wide variety of skills: STEM skills like engineering, physics, math, coding, and the link; but also social skills like marketing and outreach as each team needs to build a network of sponsors and supporters.

The Rubies go into each season with the goal of squashing the assumption that girls in robotics are only good at the social skills. "We want to show that with hard work and persistence, a girl’s team can compete, achieve success and earn respect for both technical and management skills." These girls have been working together for several years, starting out in the Lego League before aging into the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) program two years ago. They are now in the middle of their second season, and are already winning high praise and awards! In their first tournament this season they came in second over all in the qualifying matches, and were captains of the winning alliance. In their second qualifying tournament, they came in first!

These girls aren't just about winning, though. They're dedicated to encouraging other kids to join the fun of robotics. This year alone, they've mentored five new robotics teams and run regular "Robotics 101" workshops, all while they prepared for competitions themselves. "​As the first all-girls FTC robotics team from Minneapolis, we are dedicated to empowering young women in engineering and spreading robotics programs to people who previously lacked the resources to participate."

Check out their website, or follow them on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Check out this great story featuring the Rubies and another all-girl team, the Ponytail Posse.

Photo source: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Women in Sports: Alice Greenough Orr

Alice Greenough Orr - Rodeo Queen
(March 17, 1902 – August 20, 1995)

Alice Greenough Orr claimed she was "born liberated" and she spent the rest of her life proving it. She grew up on a ranch in Montana where her father often let her work with the wild horses. Her stubbornness came in handy -- he figured if they got tired of trying to kick her off, they'd be tame enough for anyone else. While she was taming horses, she was also honing the skills needed to become an internationally celebrated rodeo star, and earn herself four saddle bronc championships.

Strong-willed as a teenager, she dropped out of school to deliver mail by horseback, covering a 35-mile route on horseback through three winters. Her goal at the time was to become a forest ranger, but when servicemen returned after WWI the government stopped hiring women.

Instead, in 1919 she and her sister Marge answered an ad looking for saddle bronc riders - an event deemed too dangerous for women riders in modern rodeos. After all those years taming wild horses, she easily earned a spot, and began what became her life's work: rodeo. She criss-crossed the US, covering nearly every state. She continued to win championships, her fame grew, and her touring schedule was expanded to include Europe and Australia. While touring Europe in the 1930s, she had tea with the Queen of England, then visited Spain where she rode fighting bulls into arenas before hopping off and leaving them for the matadors.

Back in the US, she continued touring, but broadened her involvement in rodeo organization, and branched out into stunt work in films and television. In 1936, she helped organize the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association to help performers negotiate better treatment by tour operators, who sometimes shortchanged them. In the 1940s, she established her own rodeo tour, offering the first women's barrel racing events.

She was the first woman inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and one of the first women inducted into the rodeo division of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Read more about her and other pioneering cowgirls

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

SRPS Women in STEM: Lucy Hobbs Taylor

Lucy Hobbs Taylor - Pioneering Dentist
(March 14, 1833 – October 3, 1910)

In 1866, Lucy Hobbs Taylor graduated from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery, making her the first American woman to graduate to earn a Dental degree. She went on to become one of the most prominent dentists in the state of Kansas, and was a role model for women looking to enter the field of dentistry.

Born in New York, she grew up determined "to enter a profession where she could earn her bread not alone by the sweat of her brow, but by the use of her brains also." As a young woman, she took a teaching position in a frontier town in Michigan, where she boarded with a physician whose work led her to consider a career in medicine. In fact, he encouraged her to move to Cincinnati to attend the Eclectic Medical College. Unfortunately, they weren't accepting female students, but they kindly suggested she consider dentistry.

She applied to the the Ohio College of Dental Surgery, but they also barred women. Instead, she took private lessons from one of the school's professors, and in 1961 was proficient enough to open her own practice without a degree, a common practice at the time. Four years later, recognizing her growing professional reputation, signaled by being accepted into the Iowa State Dental Society, they reconsidered and allowed her to enroll as a senior. When she graduated the following year, 1866, she became the first woman to earn a doctorate in dentistry.

She married in 1867 and convinced her husband to also become a dentist. They moved to Kansas, where they created one of the most successful dental practices in the state. They worked together until his death, after which Lucy took some time off to work for women's rights, but in 1895 she reopened her practice.

Because of Dr. Taylor's pioneering example, by 1900 almost one thousand women had gone into dentistry. She was a highly revered in her community and among her professional peers. Upon her death, the Lawrence Daily Journal wrote, "Dr. Lucy Taylor was one of the most striking figures in Lawrence, she occupied a position of honor and ability, for years she occupied a place high in the ranks of her profession. Dr. Taylor was a great charitable worker and did much good in a quiet, unobtrusive manner."

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Monday, March 13, 2017

SRPS Women in STEM: Charlotte Friend

Charlotte Friend - Virologist
(March 11, 1921 – January 13, 1987)

Dr. Charlotte Friend was a ground-breaking virologist who researched the link between viruses and some cancers. She was a prolific researcher who published a staggering 163 papers over the course of her career, including 70 she wrote herself or with one other author.

After graduating from Hunter College in 1943, she joined the Navy as a member of the WAVES where she worked in hematology lab. After the war, she earned her PhD in Microbiology from Yale with an focus on immunology. In her research at Sloan-Kettering she worked with another pioneering female scientist, Cecily Cannan Selby. Together they discovered structures in cancer cells that resembled those found in virus-infected cells. This led her to pursue the possibility of cancer being caused by viruses. In 1956, she gave a presentation on the isolation of a virus that produced leukemia in adult mice, for which she was thoroughly criticized as an absurd idea. But, as it turns out, she was right. The virus she discovered -- Friend leukemia virus -- became the basis for decades of cancer research, as well as the development of a vaccine against the HIV.

In 1966, she became the first and only female full Professor at the newly opened Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where she served as Director of the Center for Experimental Cell Biology. In 1971, she published another landmark paper detailing her work on targeting cancer cells to force them to stop multiplying, a course of research that continues today. In addition to critical her work in the lab, she was also an outspoken activist for scientific funding as well as women's rights.

To read more about her life and work, check out this informative piece from The New York History Blog.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Inspiration: Pioneering women in medicine you need know

11 brilliant women who broke through glass ceilings in medicine, but chances are you've never heard of them.

In my research for this blog I've come across some truly inspirational women whose hard work and dedication broke down barriers and created new opportunities for other women. And yet none of these women were featured in any of my history books growing up.

Women have worked as caregivers throughout history, nursing the sick and injured, and preparing medicinal herbs and tinctures. But with the advent of medicine as a science, women were too often barred from serving in professional roles such as doctor or pharmacist. These positions required extensive education and training, and the doors to those institutions were closed to many of the brightest and most determined women.

But there were a few truly remarkable women who persevered and managed to break into the all-male medical schools. And, once they'd earned their degree, they turned around and created new colleges and hospitals specifically for the purpose of educating other women.

These are the the women who fascinate me. They pushed forward, and then reached back to bring more women with them!

I've gathered together some of the women who've inspired me in my readings through the years, spanning three centuries of American history. Each of the women below worked as a professional in medicine in one capacity or other. Some went on to start their own training courses or colleges to open doors for more women to follow their dreams of working as a nurse or doctor. Others used their training to serve their community, often in times of severe and shameful discrimination. All of these women were the first in their field, breaking down barriers for others who came after them.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Kickstart This! Femme Magnifique

As a history nerd, I'm fascinated with trying to understand how things are connected through generations. I always want to know what has carried down through the ages and how it affects us today. Maybe it's simply a matter of hoping the work of my generation will carry forward in a beneficial way. But, honestly, I think it's a bit bigger than that. It's a feeling of time moving at its own pace, and human progress being greater than any one person or event, but instead made up of the steady accumulation of actions and ideas. There's something marvelously freeing in knowing that social movements started long before me, and will continue long after me, and my job is to help move it along. Studying history has always been my way of tapping into that feeling of being connected backward and forward.

But aside from the philosophical reasons for my research, there's also the wonderfully inspirational aspect of reading stories about people, and in particular the women, who came before us -- the struggles they faced, the hard work they put in, and the impact they had. Learning about their successes without the story of how they got there is an almost tragically inadequate lesson. It's in learning of their struggles and resolutions that we are able to identify with them, and then apply that knowledge as a kind of fortification as we face our own endeavors.

That's why I will never tire of books sharing the stories of important women from history. Each new project shows us a unique perspective on the familiar stories. Each new anthology gives us a new set of women to celebrate, while also telling us a story about the artists involved in the selection process -- why they chose which women and how the group them is also part of the story.

I only just recently learned about a new project honoring an impressive list of women who have left their mark on history: Femme Magnifique. In this case, the stories are being told in a delightfully visual art form: comics. Each profile tells the story of a remarkable woman, and is drawn by a different comic artist. Co-curator Kristy Miller agreed to answer a few questions about this great project celebrating the lives of amazing women throughout history.

SRPS: First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself? What's your background?

KM: I am an archaeologist, a college professor, and I co-own Hi-Fi colour design with my husband. I have a BA in Antiquities, a Secondary Education certificate, an MA in Museum Studies/Anthropology, and I'm currently a Ph.D. candidate in Education.

I am currently the Lab Director and Assistant Field Director for a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Salalah, Oman, called Al Baleed. My husband and I spend between five and nine weeks a year there. I am an Adjunct Professor at a local community college where I teach various Anthropology classes including Women in Other Cultures and Archaeology.

As for Hi-Fi, my husband (Brian) and I started this company over 15 years ago. We are a digital coloring studio that provides digital color for comics, movie posters, games, etc. Brian is the creative director and I oversee the business side of things. Hi-Fi has about 40 employees around the world.

SRPS: You have a wonderfully diverse background including studying and teaching classes on archaeology as well as ancient and modern history. How did you find yourself studying people of past eras?

KM: I have always been fascinated with the past. When I was little I lived in the county and my dad and I would go for walks in the woods and look for old bottles or arrowheads or whatever we could find. I always wondered about the people that used those things. As soon as I learned what an archaeologist was I knew I wanted to be one (at about age 8!). My favorite areas are Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the Middle East and the association between all of them. In college I focused on the Classics (Greece and Rome). I took five semesters of Latin and two of Greek, then my Senior year I was chosen to attend a semester long dig in Oman… that quickly switched my emphasis to the Middle East. As an adult I have visited many of the places I used to read about. It is an amazing thing to actually go inside the pyramids or walk around Knossos.

SRPS: What is Femme Magnifique? What inspired you to create this collection of women's stories?

KM: Femme Magnifique is a graphic novel anthology which will contain up to 50 short stories about women from all walks of life, past and present. Shelly Bond, former DC Vertigo Editor, came up with the idea and asked Brian and me to help her curate the book and launch it on Kickstarter. There are over 100 artists involved in the project, many with a background in comics.

A few days before the election Shelly called Brian and me wanting to know if we were interested in working with her on a cool, powerful project called Femme Magnifique. We were all upset with the election cycle and how women were being portrayed or talked about in the media, specifically in politics. At the same time, Brian had decided to do something art-based to address these concerns; he just hadn't figured out what. Within a week, we had firm ideas about the kinds of stories we wanted to tell and who we wanted to invite to write and draw them. We all agreed that Femme Magnifique needed to be a book about the achievements of women as told by both sexes. Men cannot be excluded from the conversation. They're pivotal to the advancement of women, so we have an expansive list of male and female talents contributing to the project.

SRPS: It reminds me a bit of The Wonder Women of History comics that were publish alongside the original Woman Woman, only with more modern women to celebrate. How did you go about selecting who to include?

KM: The first step was actually not about the subjects but about the creators. Shelly, Brian and I came up with a list of writers and artists we thought would be great on the project. Shelly opened up her massive Rolodex and started contacting people. Everyone we spoke with was as excited about the project as we were. The next step was to ask each writer to come up with two or three women who were inspirational to them and that they would like to write about. Interestingly we had very little overlap, the list was varied and impressive. We felt the stories would be even more inspirational if they were personal in nature—someone the writer and/or artist was passionate about.

SRPS: It's Women's History Month, which seems like perfect timing to celebrate these remarkable women! Why is it so important to tell the stories of women from history?

KM: The short answer is just two words: Role Models. I do an activity with my college students who take my Women's classes. They are to fill in the name of their favorite/most inspirational women in the following fields: politics, music, science, art, education, women's movement, family, etc. They can all fill in the blank for family and music but the majority are left blank. They are not even aware of the choices in some of those fields. I turn the activity around and ask them to name the most successful/popular people in their degree field. The answers are by far and away male. It's not that women are not in these fields or that women have not been pioneers but that they are often overlooked or forgotten. Many times there was one successful women but 100 successful men, you would think that would make the woman stand out but instead she is ignored.

One of the Kickstarter reward levels is a Teacher's Edition. I am writing curriculum for teachers to go with Femme Magnifique. There will be activities like the one above as well as specific activities that focus on the subjects and they will be adaptable for all ages. I hope that teachers and everyone else will find Femme Magnifique valuable and inspirational and order it from Kickstarter.

As they reiterate on their website, the folks behind Femme Magnifique are committed to using their platform to not only tell these stories, but to create change.
In every area of the arts and sciences, in tech companies or political campaigns and in the pop music and comics cultural landscape, we have to do better. Reach out together and create a book that will spread the good word about woman whose tremendous accomplishments inspire others around them -- from young girls to entire nations -- not to accept anything less than absolute equality.
I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of Femme Magnifique! If you haven't already backed this project, please consider doing so ASAP! There's only a week left to get in on it. They've already met their initial goal, as well as their first stretch goal. They're super close to their second! Now more than ever, we need more inspirational stories of remarkable women in the world.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sylvia Serfaty - Mathematician

"It's really beautiful to observe, as you progress in your mathematical maturity, how everything is somehow connected. There are so many things that are related, and you keep building connections in your intellectual landscape." 
One of the things that fascinates me most about science and math is the line that can be drawn through history connecting researchers, each building on the work of those who came before. And then how their own work builds on what they have learned and what others are learning. It's all very exciting to me, even though I know it's a lot of hard, often lonely, work.

I recently read an interview with Sylvia Serfaty, and while I can't say I understand what she's working on, I find it immensely interesting to just listen to her talk about the process of mathematical research. And how she came to realize that this was her passion.

When she was in high school, her math teacher was giving out challenging problems for the students to solve. Sylvia took hers home and wrestled with it for a while and eventually came up with a solution. As it turns out, it was a different, more abstract solution than the one her teacher was expecting. How exhilarating it must have been to realize she had a natural aptitude for solving problems and that this might be her calling in life!

But she makes it clear she was not math prodigy. She really dislikes that stereotype of math researchers as savants, and instead makes it clear that she and others like her put in long hours of hard work, much like practicing for musicians honing their craft. Actually, this is something I see quite often in my research of women in STEM -- they emphasize the time and effort required to reach their goals.

Sylvia's work included taking on the problem of using math to analyze superconductors -- to determine the relationship between the magnetic field of the superconductor and the vortices that appear. This took her decades to solve. She first took on this problem in 1998 as a post-doc, and continued to work on it off and on over the next 18 years. In that time, she earned the European Mathematical Society prize in 2004, and then in 2012, she shared the Poincaré Prize with Nalini Anantharaman, another remarkable female mathematician, making them the only two women awarded that honor. So far.

She is also an outspoken proponent of increasing outreach to bring more women and minorities into STEM fields, because everyone sees the world a little bit differently and that changes how they approach problems and come up with different answers. "That’s why you need people with different points of view, to think of different perspectives and find different roads."

You can read a fantastic interview with her from earlier this month.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kickstart This! African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book

Like many of you, I saw the film Hidden Figures and cheered and cried with the amazing women whose stories had been shamefully neglected for far too long. As someone with more than a passing interest in women's history, I was also more than a little frustrated and disappointed that the stories of these women and others weren't routinely taught in school when I was a kid. Heck, they haven't been taught in most schools in the nearly-30 years since I graduated.

I sometimes wonder if learning about the endeavors of women in math and science would have changed the career trajectories of some of my classmates. Would more of us have actually considered a career in STEM? Would we have stuck with science and math even when it got "hard?" It's difficult to tell. If nothing else, learning about the contributions of these women and others who came before them would have given us a richer understanding of the complex history of the eras in which they lived.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a concerted effort to tell the stories of important women in history whose work has overlooked, if not completely dismissed, for decades or even centuries. Most of the women newly-celebrated worked in the fields of medicine or science, with only a few representing mathematics, and even fewer still were African American women.

Until now, that is. Dr. Shelly Jones is committed to sharing the stories of these math pioneers in her work with students and teachers around the country. As someone who works with a diverse population, she knows the importance of creating a more accurate and representative picture of influential mathematicians, which was more than just a bunch of white men with a smattering of white women.

So, as you can imagine I was thrilled to learn about her African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book. It looks like a fun activity book for middle-grade students, including puzzles that will encourage students to learn more about these women's lives and work. This is an especially important age when it comes to determining whether a student with pursue a career in STEM, and it's when the interest in math peaks for many girls. Perhaps by showing them examples of smart women who did great work, more will be inspired to follow in their footsteps.

The project is already 66% (that's 2/3rds in fractions) funded, with only a week left, but it still needs your help to get off the ground. Dr. Jones was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her work in teaching mathematics as well as explaining the importance of the African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book.

SRPS: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? What's your background? What inspires you?

SJ: Currently, I am an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in New Britain, Connecticut. I teach undergraduate mathematics content and methods courses for pre-service teachers as well as graduate level mathematics content, curriculum and STEM courses for practicing teachers. I am interested in and conduct research on culturally relevant mathematics, making mathematics and music connections, and the effects of college students’ attitudes and beliefs about mathematics on their success in college.

Before CCSU, I was a Mathematics Teacher and then Supervisor in three Connecticut K-12 school districts and then the Assistant Director for Mathematics at The Project to Increase Mastery of Mathematics and Science (PIMMS) at Wesleyan University. I have been an educator for over 25 years.

I serve the mathematics education community by presenting at conferences at the local and national levels. I also provide mathematics professional development in K-12 school districts around the country. I am member and volunteer of the Benjamin Banneker Association, a national organization who advocates for the excellence in teaching and learning for African American children. I am a contributing author of a book entitled, The Brilliance of Black Children in Mathematics: Beyond the Numbers and Toward a New Discourse. Recently I completed a study on Using Culturally Relevant Cognitively Demanding Mathematics Tasks in Classrooms in the United States and Abroad. I worked with teachers from the United States, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bermuda.

I have two daughters ages 17 and 23.

SRPS: What motivated you to dedicate your life to math pedagogy -- instructing teachers how to teach math?

SJ: I began my career as a computer programmer but didn't like the isolation of creating and troubleshooting programs. I began to train people on the job and found that I really enjoyed teaching. I always hear people say, "I'm not good at math." I want to change that narrative. I think people are better at math than they think. They are just not good at "school" math. We must change what we consider is math. It is so much more than just symbol manipulation and following mathematical procedures. It is a way of thinking that includes patterns and logic.

SRPS: One of the questions I hear pretty often from school-aged kids is "When will I ever use this in real life?" Is this because students don't see the relevance of math in their lives?

SJ: Yes, students and even some adults don’t see the relevance of mathematics because they don't see the connection to real life. It is up to teachers to help students see the connection between "school" math and real-life math. Much of what we do in real life is mathematical. For example, we estimate time, recipes, and budgets. We do scheduling, plan trips, calculate percentages, use spatial reasoning to decorate rooms and create art. We even use math (fractions) to read music and tune musical instruments. This is just to name a few. The key is to point this out to students when appropriate and to use real-life scenarios as much as possible in our mathematics curriculum.

SRPS: What is the African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book?

SJ: This activity book is being created to honor the important work, accomplishments and everyday lives of African American Women Mathematicians. Although the book is geared to children in grades 3 – 8 it is appropriate for all ages. All of the featured mathematicians will have a profile sketch and a short biography followed by an activity page displaying their math interest or a hobby they enjoy. For example, Evelyn Boyd Granville participated on a team that created computer software for NASA's Project Vanguard and Project Mercury space programs. Her activity page will include a coloring page of a sketch of the Mercury space craft. Whether at home or school, children will enjoy uncovering mathematician's names through word searches, unscrambling math vocabulary words, solving equations to decode a mathematics fact, answering math history trivia to complete a crossword puzzle, and using their math brain to figure out a magic square. The book will also include some coloring pages and an eye spy page where students will locate hidden mathematical objects.

SRPS: There is a distinct lack of African American women in math and science fields, and several prominent physicists -- like Jedidah Isler & Chanda Prescod-Weinstein -- are calling attention to that. Many people talk about the "broken tech pipeline." How do we encourage more girls to even consider a career in math?

SJ: Whenever possible we must provide opportunities for girls and young women to participate in STEM activities. We must encourage them to "try it!" Having role models is another important aspect of getting more girls into STEM fields. My university sponsors a Girls in STEM Day for high school aged girls. In addition, I coordinate an annual CAMPY-on-Campus event at my university. CAMPY is the Connecticut Association of Mathematically Precocious Youth. Every year we host over 100 middle school students of which many are girls. The students spend a full day participating in STEM activities. They also receive a cool mathematics related t-shirt. These types of events are needed to spark students interest in STEM fields.

SRPS: How did you decide which female mathematicians from history to include?

SJ: The activity book will start with the "firsts" African American women to receive doctorate degrees in mathematics. They are Euphemia Lofton Haynes, Evelyn Boyd Granville, Marjorie Lee Brown, Argelia Velez-Rodriguez, Gloria Conyers Hewitt, and Sadie Gasaway. I will also feature more current mathematicians such as Etta Zuber Falconer and Genevieve Knight. Dr. Falconer was a pioneer of the computer science program at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Knight was one of the founding members of the Benjamin Banneker Association, Incorporated, an affiliate organization of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). So far, I have 20 women; however, as I work on this project, I am finding more and more women to include. I will make a final decision at the end of my Kickstarter campaign. I was asked to include some young women mathematicians and so I am looking for those women now.

Check it out: African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book

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