This week marks the end of Women’s History Month, a time to honor extraordinary women who changed the way we look at the world. However, some women have been unfairly overlooked by history, despite making large impacts. This post highlights a few pioneering women ¾ who you may not know or who you have forgotten about ¾ who have made significant contributions in creative fields.
Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973-1014) was a Japanese writer and lady-in-waiting during the Heian period. She is considered to be the world’s first novelist for writing The Tale of Genji. The 1,100-page novel, which is believed to have taken over a decade to complete, is considered a masterpiece and is important to scholars because of its detailed portrayal of Japanese court life and its use of kana, a revolutionary writing system that represents the Japanese vernacular.
Anne Finch (1661-1720) was one of the first published female poets in England, and her work often addressed political and social issues that affected women of the time. She started writing poetry in her early 20s, but kept it secret because being a poet wasn’t deemed a worthy profession for women. Later in life, she started publishing her poetry anonymously; however, she received credit for it posthumously when it became recognized and admired by other writers, such as Virginia Woolf.
Martha Graham (1894-1991) was an American dancer and choreographer, who is known as “the mother of modern dance.” She established the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, the oldest dance company in America, in 1926 and was known for her “contraction and release” technique, characterized by spastic movements and still used by some dancers today. Graham didn’t stop dancing until she was in her 70s and didn’t stop choreographing until her death.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) was a gospel, jazz, blues, and rock-and-roll musician, known as “the godmother of rock and roll.” Her music crossed many genres and was highly influential to musicians such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis. She was also a talented songwriter and guitarist at a time when playing guitar was thought to be too masculine for women. Her song “Strange Things Happening Every Day” is known as one of the first recorded rock-and-roll songs.
Gilda Radner (1946-1989) was one of the original cast members on Saturday Night Live. She is known for her outlandish recurring characters, including Roseanne Roseannadanna, whose catchphrase is “it’s always something ¾ if it ain’t one thing, it’s another,” Emily Litella, who humorously presents misheard news, and for her parody of Barbara Walters (Baba Wawa). Unfortunately, Radner passed away from ovarian cancer at only 42, but her unique brand of comedy has inspired and influenced countless other female comedians who came after her.
Sylvia Robinson (1935-2011), “the mother of hip-hop,” was the founder and CEO of Sugar Hill Records, a label that helped popularize hip-hop music through the success of classic groups such as the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, known for the singles “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message,” respectively. Robinson also found success in her early career as an R&B singer and reportedly inspired the character Cookie Lyon on Empire.
Amy Heckerling (1954-) is the director of popular films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Look Who’s Talking, and Clueless. She is part of a small percentage of women who have achieved box office success as directors, especially in the male-dominated world of comedy. Her contributions to the teen comedy canon have greatly influenced the genre, and she has publicly spoken out about how hard it is for women, especially older women, to thrive in the film industry.