15 Amazing Women You’ve Never Heard Of
Rachael Scdoris: Dogsled racer
Competing in Alaska’s 1,150-plus-mile Iditarod dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome is a grueling challenge for the most dedicated and experienced of dog mushers.
Now imagine running that race without being able to see.
That’s exactly what a 20-year-old Rachael Scdoris attempted in 2005. Born with an uncorrectable congenital vision disorder, Scdoris has 20/200 eyesight, which means she is legally blind. But that didn’t stop her from taking up the sport. Scdoris competed in her first dogsled race in 1997 and became the first legally blind dogsled racer to finish the Iditarod in 2006.
Scdoris had her best result in the 2009 Iditarod. How does she do it? Race officials allowed Scdoris to compete with a“visual interpreter—another dogsledder who could warn her about upcoming hazards. Few thought she’d be able to complete the race, but she has more than proven that she can hold her own in the unforgiving Alaska wilderness.
C. Vivian Stringer: Basketball coach
C. Vivian Stringer has had plenty of accomplishments in her life. She’s led three college basketball teams to NCAA championship games, she’s a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and she’s currently the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Rutgers University. But she’s dealt with her share of adversity, as well.
By the time radio shock jock Don Imus made his infamous derogatory and racist statements about her Rutgers players during the 2007 NCAA women’s basketball finals, she was more than ready to take him on.
Stringer, who recently became the third women’s basketball coach in history to win 800 career games, said in one television interview that she was angry, but not surprised, that such hurtful comments were made, given the general acceptance of certain negative attitudes in our culture.
After the racial and sexist slur Imus tossed out about Stringer’s team, she told The New York Times, “No one can make you feel inferior unless you allow them. … We can’t let other people steal our joy.”
Maria Teresa Tula: Human rights activist
During the bloody civil war that El Salvador endured in the 1980s and 1990s, many families didn’t know if their husbands or fathers or brothers would return home at the end of each day. Various “death squads” and government security forces would round up men who were thought to be supporting their respective oppositions and take them away, many never to be seen again.
When the women of El Salvador tried to bring these human rights atrocities to the world’s attention in an attempt to save their families, their lives were endangered, too.
One of those women, Maria Teresa Tula, is now one of the leaders of that group, Co-Madres (Mothers of the Disappeared) of El Salvador. In working to bring attention to the human rights violations and political assassinations in El Salvador during those violent years, Tula endured her own abduction, torture and imprisonment. But that did not stop her efforts to end the violence in her country.
In an interview with Kerry Kennedy, another human rights activist, Tula said, “I rejoice that peace has come to my country at last and that the human rights we fought for during those dark years now seem within our reach, not just in our dreams.”
Sarah Chayes: Activist
It’s a long way from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Kandahar, Afghanistan. But for reporter-turned-activist Sarah Chayes, it turned out to be the right journey.
Shortly after 9/11, Harvard-educated Chayes was working as a Paris-based correspondent for National Public Radio. In light of world events at the time, she agreed to a short stint in Afghanistan.
Chayes was so moved by the Afghan people and their struggles that she ended up staying and became committed to helping rebuild Afghanistan. She accepted an invitation from the Afghanistan government to help run Afghans for Civil Society, an aid organization created to rebuild what had been destroyed during the years of Taliban rule.
In 2005, continuing her commitment to rebuilding the Afghan economy, Chayes created a foundation called Arghand, a cooperative that promotes the use of local crops, such as pomegranates, to produce highly sought after natural soap and beauty products, in an effort to replace the country’s dependency on opium poppies as a cash crop.
Marie C. Wilson: Founder of The White House Project
Marie C. Wilson is the founder and president of The White House Project, an organization she created in 1998 to promote the advancement of women in politics and business, with the ultimate goal of seeing a woman move into the White House as president.
A women’s activist for three decades, Wilson was the former president of the Ms. Foundation for Women. That organization has raised millions of dollars for programs to advance causes that impact girls and women, including reproductive rights and reducing violence against women.
Wilson is also the creator of the very popular Take Our Daughters to Work Day (which has become Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day).
Wilson didn’t start out with a plan to become one of the country’s leading women’s advocates. Her political epiphany came in her role as a mother trying to advocate for her son who had cerebral palsy.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Wilson explained, “I worked with the school system to help [my son] get what he needed. I lobbied for affordable childcare. Then I realized, ‘Oh, my God, politics is about me!’”
Emme Aronson: First plus-size supermodel
Stories about the deaths of anorexic fashion models have suggested that more should be done to convince clothing designers and producers of runway fashion shows to resist hiring models unless they meet a certain body mass index requirement. In other words: No more stick-figure models.
Plus-size supermodel Aronson—once a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association, championed that cause for many years. The outspoken advocate tries to convince girls to embrace the fact that we all come in different shapes and sizes, and that being healthy doesn’t mean being a size zero.
”We need to take collective responsibility for this cultural catastrophe and recognize our obligation to not only learn as much as we can about eating disorders but also how our actions influence young women and girls,” Aronson says. “It is imperative that we not just skim the surface, but dig deeper about unattainable ideals of beauty which can lead to life-threatening diseases with sometimes permanent consequences."
Waris Dirie: Crusader against female genital mutilation
When Waris Dirie was 5 years old, she was subjected to the ritual female circumcision that was commonplace in her native Somalia. In that culture, female circumcision is performed to supposedly ensure a girl’s purity before her eventual marriage. But many times, as in Dirie’s case, it is performed under unsanitary conditions, without anesthesia, and can lead to death or lifelong pain.
At 13, Dirie managed to escape Somalia by agreeing to work in her uncle’s home during his tenure as Somalia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. There, years later, Dirie was discovered by a fashion photographer, which led to her eventual career as a successful model.
To help prevent other girls and women from suffering her same fate, she created the Waris Dirie Foundation to shine a light on this cruel procedure. As a result of her work, she was named the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation in 1997.
Dr. Julie Gerberding: Former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Ranked No. 12 on Forbes magazine’s 2005 list of the 100 most powerful women, Dr. Julie Gerberding is not a name one hears on a daily basis.
From 2002 to 2009, Gerberding was the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Gerberding and her staff spent years studying and preparing for an anticipated bird flu pandemic. In February 2007, she led a drill to test the country’s readiness in the event of a human outbreak of avian flu.
Gerberding allowed the media to monitor the trial run and report on how the CDC and other agencies involved would handle such a crisis. Some were surprised at the move, but Gerberding told the International Herald Tribune that, since a human pandemic could lead to millions of deaths worldwide, it was necessary to demonstrate to state and local governments the importance of focusing on bird flu preparedness.