Get to know: The women featured in Google’s International Women’s Day Doodle

Minds that helped shape the world


By Su Fen Tan

Get to know: The women featured in Google’s International Women’s Day Doodle

Happy International Women’s Day 2017! It all started back in 1908, when a group of women gathered in New York City to demand their rights to equality—fair pay, better working conditions, and the right to vote. That inspired and sparked similar events in other worlds, with the first official International Women’s Day rallies being held in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland in 1911. And today, we get to see the day being observed in many different ways across the globe.


Going to Google’s site this 8 March will bring you to its latest doodle: a slideshow tribute to 13 remarkable women of different professions and pursuits who have helped shape the world in their own ways. While some may be familiar, others might plant a question mark or two in your head.  


Here, we’ll take you on a little discovery journey and tell you more about the featured female pioneers:

Ida Wells (1862 – 1931) was an American journalist, suffragist and civil rights activist. She was a voracious read who devoured the works of Shakespeare and Dickens before she turned 20. By 25, she was editor of the Memphis-based Free Speech and Headlight. In Wells world, words reign – powerful and strong enough to fight even the most entrenched segregation and discrimination. She co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP, and established the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago. Fearless and uncompromising, she was a fierce opponent of segregation, and worked tirelessly to fight for full political rights for all American women in her lifetime.   

Lotfia El Nadi (1907 – 2002) was Egypt’s first female pilot. In 1932 – over her father’s objections and with her mother’s help – she enrolled in Egypt’s first aviation school. Just a few months later, she got her pilot’s license. She was 26. In 1933, El Nadi became the first Egyptian woman to fly a plane from Cairo to Alexandria. “I learned to fly because I love to be free,” she said. Her yearning for freedom also took the form of working for women’s equality, and she showed that women can do anything – if they only dared to dream.

Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) was a Mexican painter and activist. One of the most recognisable figures from the art world, she tells her stories through vivid, vibrant paintings and self-portraits that are both shocking and inviting. At the age of 18, she found herself bedridden and unable to move after a tragic bus crash. To help her pass the time, her mother brought her a portable easel and box of paints – it was then that an artist was born. At the same time, she also became more politically active, and fought for justice for women, Latinos and workers.  

Lina Bo Bardi (1914 – 1992) was an Italian-born Brazilian architect. A pioneering modernist architect, she designed many iconic buildings in her time, including the Sáo Paulo Museum of Art – one of her most famous works. Beyond her career as an architect, Bo Bardi was also a publisher, teacher and a political activist in both Italy and Brazil. She noted that “architecture and architectural freedom are above all a social issue that must be seen from inside a political structure, not from outside it.”


Olga Skorokhodova (1911 – 1982) was a Soviet scientist and researcher in the field of deaf and blind communication. She lost her vision and hearing at age five due to meningitis, but went on to change the lives of many. Also a therapist, teacher and writer, she dedicated her life to carefully documenting how the deaf and blind perceive the world around them. Her work became an important basis for further studies and contributed to the development of education for the deaf and blind. 

Miriam Makeba (1932 – 2008) was a South African singer and civil rights activist. Despite an early life marred by tragedy and hardship – at just 18 days old, her mother was sent to prison and Makeba went with her – she went on to make a name for herself in the music industry, and used her fame to draw attention to the suffering and oppression of South Africa under apartheid. Upon her passing, Nelson Mandela said: “Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years, at the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us.”


Sally Ride (1951 – 2012) was an American astronaut and the first woman in space. In 1977, she was finishing her Ph.D. in physics at Stanford University when she saw an article saying that NASA was looking for astronauts. She jumped at the opportunity, and became one of six women selected as part of the new crop of astronaut candidates. On 18 June 1983, Ride made history as the first American woman in space. Looking at Earth from space, she was moved by the beauty of our planet, realising how important it is for all of us to take care of our fragile home, and became an environmentalist. She also used her high profile to inspire and help kids stay excited about science and technology.


Halet Çambel (1916 – 2014) was a Turkish archaeologist and the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics. After earning her doctorate from the University of Istanbul in 1940, Çambel fought tirelessly for the advancement of archaeology, and helped preserve some of Turkey’s most important archaeological sites near the Ceyhan River. She established an outdoor museum at Karatepe, where she went on to break ground on one of Earth’s oldest known civilisations by discovering a Phoenician alphabet tablet that unlocked the code to Hittite hieroglyphics. In addition to that, she was an accomplished fencer who became the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics in 1936. 

Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852) was an English Mathematician, writer and the world’s first computer programmer. Lovelace, along with her counterpart Charles Babbage, were pioneers in computing long before the first computer was built. While Babbage drew up designs for the first general-purpose computer, Lovelace anticipated the much more impressive possibilities for the machine. In 1843, Ada published extensive notes on the Analytic Engine which included the first published sequence of operations for a computer, which she would have input to the Analytic Engine using punch cards. It is this program for calculating Bernoulli numbers which leads some to consider Ada Lovelace the world’s first computer programmer, as well as a visionary of the computing age.


Rukmini Devi (1904 – 1986) was an Indian dancer and choreographer credited with reviving Indian classical dance. She popularized the Bharata Natyam – a traditional Indian dance form with roots stretching back over a thousand years – modernising it and infusing it with elements of music, theater and costumes she encountered in her travels. Devi was also an animal rights activist, and served as the first chair of the Animal Welfare Board of India in 1962.


Cecilia Grierson (1859 – 1934) was an Argentine physician, activist, inventor, and reformer. She was also the first woman in Argentina to receive a medical degree, at a time when medical school was off limits to women in the country. As vice president of the International Council of Women, a suffragist organization, she fought tirelessly for social causes like welfare benefits, maternity leave for working women, and the end of the slave trade, to name a few. As a physician, Grierson founded the first nursing school in Argentina and helped to advance studies in gynaecology and kinesiology. She was also the first person to suggest that medical service vehicles should have alarm bells – resulting in what we now know as the ambulance. 


Lee Tai-young (1914 – 1998) was a Korean lawyer and activist. Not just any legal counsel, she was Korea’s first female lawyer and judge, and founded the country’s first legal aid centre. By revising national laws, especially those related to families and marriage, Lee helped Korean women improve their circumstances and stand up for their rights. Lee traveled extensively, advocating for human rights and peace worldwide. In the 1970s and 1980s, she received a flurry of awards, including the Asian Peace Prize. She also wrote many books on women’s issues and translated Eleanor Roosevelt’s book On My Own into Korean. In her memoirs, Lee summarised her life’s work as “build[ing] a dam which can produce energy and power to lighten the darkened corners of society and reinvigorate its stalled and rusty engines.”


Suzanne Lenglen (1899 – 1938) was a French tennis champion who popularised the sport. She picked up her first racket in 1910 for health reasons. In less than five years, she became the sport’s youngest champion. She had a staggeringly successful career, and even starred in one of the earliest instructional films. More importantly, she broke down barriers through her passionate play, non-traditional wardrobe, and outspoken stance against the sport’s formalities. She dominated women’s tennis from 1914 until 1926, winning 31 Championship titles along the way. With Lenglen’s influence, tennis gained the attention it deserved, and became a sport not just for some, but for all.


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