By Laura Sliker |

I am a feminist. I believe that empowerment and support are central to success as a woman and that we have a lot to learn from one another. I draw inspiration from the women around me, from those I know and from those I may never meet. With how massive and current women’s issues are, sometimes it’s easy to forget about the women who started this movement. Recently, I attended a lecture about women in history. It reminded me that we have a lot to learn from women of the past and that feminism is nothing new. Here are a few women I learned about and a lesson that each of them has to teach us.

You can be both conventional and controversial.

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was a good, Christian woman in the early days of colonial America. She was also the first woman recognized for her writing in the colonies. In a time when female writers hid behind masculine pen names or were condemned for their craft, Bradstreet walked the line between housewife and artist while making time for religion and children. She proved that a normal day to day life could go hand in hand with changing the world.

You can change the world without saying a word.

Speaking of changing the world, Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894) showed us another way to change the world without so much as speaking. When she decided that women’s clothing in the 1800s was too heavy, warm and impractical, she created a new trend by wearing short, puffy pants which to this day are called bloomers. This simple act of wearing clothes in an unexpected way changed the world, as well as the way women were viewed and allowed to dress. Sometimes what you are wearing says more than words ever could.

Nothing can stop you.

Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012) had to flee from the Holocaust in Italy and did so successfully. She was also a scientist. Despite being forced into hiding and fearing for her life and freedom, Levi-Montalcini created a laboratory in her bedroom to continue the research in neurobiology that she was conducting before she was expelled from her university. She was awarded the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the nerve growth factor with colleague Stanley Cohen. Against all odds, she was able to continue her research, proving that no matter what was happening in the world, her determination was stronger.

You can be the brains…

Lillian Gilbreth (1878- 1972) is proof of the saying that there is a great woman being behind each great man. As the first woman to earn a Ph.D., Gilbreth was an engineer and mother of 12. She devoted her life to efficiency and productivity. She developed the modern layout for kitchen and household designs. Her family’s life inspired movies like Cheaper by the Dozen. Following her husband’s passing, Gilbreth became increasingly renowned, even becoming an advisor to several presidents. This was nearly unheard of for women at this time and served to show just how intelligent Gilbreth was.

…and the muscle.

Deborah Sampson (1760-1827) proved that women could be just as tough as they were clever all the way back in the American Revolution. For nearly two years, she went by the name Robert Shirtliff and served in the army until injuries on the battlefield gave her away. After her service, she was given an honorable discharge despite having technically broken the law. Later in life, she successfully campaigned to receive a military pension. Even in the 1700s, women were challenging the lines between gender and employment, crossing them in secret and shocking those around them.

Your passions can take you anywhere you want to be.

All of these women live on in the lessons they have left to us. Their lives bear testament to the strength and drive of women before the 20th century. I’d like to think they would be proud of us, of the fact that we know we are capable of anything and are unafraid to pursue our passions. Now that you know them, remember these women’s legacies by finding your own passion. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your own way to change the world.