During times of crisis, there are always brave women who are willing to sacrifice their safety, time, resources and lives to help and save others. Sometimes these women get forgotten! As an EmpowHER team we have shared some of our favourite incredible women during times of crisis!
Grace Darling – The Rower
At the age of 22, Grace Darling became a national heroine when she responded to a crisis with courage and bravery. She struggled with the fame and media attention that followed. I have chosen Grace to commemorate all the amazing women out there who have acted so courageously during the Covid-19 pandemic, without seeking any gratitude.
Grace was the seventh of nine children, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter and lived with her family on one of the Farne Islands, in Northumberland. One night during a terrible storm a ship collided with rocks and smashed in half. Grace saw the shipwreck from her bedroom window and raised the alarm. The back part of the boat had sunk with 48 passengers on board, while the front became lodged on a rock. In the perilous waters, Grace and her Dad, William, rowed for a mile to a rock where survivors were stranded. William climbed out of the boat onto the rock to assess the injuries of the survivors, while Grace stayed in control of the boat fighting the dangerous waves, rowing backwards and forwards, trying to avoid crashing into the reef. In those early hours of 5th September 1838 Grace and her father’s bravery saved 9 peoples’ lives.
Grace received a Gold Medal of Bravery from the Royal Humane Society.
Mary Seacole – The Healer
Mary Seacole was a tenacious British-Jamaican healer who wanted to make change and serve during the Crimean War. She applied to the British War Office to be enlisted as a nurse, however, was swiftly refused. She approached Florence Nightingale to join her nursing personal but was also told she was not welcome. As someone who knew the difference she could make, Mary raised the funds from friends and family to travel independently to the battlefield. Here she set up a hotel for the wounded that offered a level of care the war officials were unable to provide. The hotel was built from salvaged driftwood, packing cases, iron sheets, and salvaged architectural items such as glass doors and window-frames.
Mary focused not only on dispensing medicines and caring for the soldier’s ailments, but also looked at improving their diets, giving them a safe and warm place to sleep, social activities and more. She wanted to heal the wounded in every sense.
Mary is someone I often think of in times of my own crisis. I have learnt from her that if your intentions are honest and good. Being told no is just a set back and you will make change.
Irena Sendlerowa – The Social Worker
I am incredibly inspired by the life of Irena Sendlerowa. She was a Catholic social worker in Poland during World War II, who saved the lives of 2,500 Jewish children. At the start of the war, when Germany invaded Poland, she worked to ensure that the poor, elderly and orphaned could access food and financial aid through the state-run canteens, but she also helped Jews who accessed the canteens falsify documents so that they could pass as Catholic and be safer.
In 1941 it become a crime punishable by death to help anyone who was a Jew, but Irena continued her work. She went on to work in the Warsaw Ghetto, where she and her colleagues did everything they could to sneak babies and children out in suitcases and medical bags. She even trained a dog that would bark on command so that it would cover the noise if any of the children cried.
She did this day in and day out, keeping records in the hope that families could be reunited once the war was over.
Even when she was caught, she wouldn’t reveal the names of the others working with her despite being tortured. She was ordered to be executed but was able to escape.
She then created a false identity and worked as a nurse, where she managed to hide five more Jews.
Irena Sendlerowa was a brave woman, who did everything she could to help others, despite the cost and risk to herself. Because of this, she saved thousands of lives.
Dame Claire Bertshinger – The Humanitarian
Claire has given her life to supporting others through a number of different charities, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Raleigh International. She famously inspired Bob Geldof to organise Band Aid and Live Aid following an interview she gave from Ethiopia during the famine in 1984. In 1991 she received the Florence Nightingale Medal for her work with the ICRC in a dozen different countries.
Despite her fame Claire has always prioritised helping people. She has spoken about the difficult decisions and situations that humanitarians face in trying to help and save everyone, by only being able to help a certain number of people. She has caught dangerous diseases and carried on, nearly been bitten by venomous snakes and carried on, she has been in more crisis than can be counted and yet… she has carried on. She always puts others ahead of herself which inspires me to try and do the same.
Claire encourages and inspires others to volunteer, do humanitarian work and get out of their comfort zones, particularly women. My favourite quote from her is “the empowerment of women, educationally and economically, is a major weapon in the fight against child mortality in the developing world.”
We should all be a little bit more like Claire.
Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal – The Virologist
Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal was a Chinese-American virologist who grew up in Hong Kong and studied and worked in America, doing pioneering research into HIV and AIDS. She spent her life studying the biology of viruses that cause illnesses in people, and was part of the team that discovered that viruses can cause cancers in humans. In the 80s, as the AIDS epidemic devastated queer communities, she was able to build on her previous work to become the first researcher to clone HIV and show that this was the virus that caused AIDS. She was doing this work at a time when not all scientists thought that a virus like this could even exist in humans. Her work led to the development of screening tests and therapies for AIDS, and she continued to do research into this and other diseases such as hepatitis C for the rest of her career.
Dr. Wong-Staal died last year, but in 2007 The Daily Telegraph heralded her at #32 of the “Top 100 Living Geniuses.” She inspires me because her approach to scientific research was so passionate – she loved the work she was doing, and her genius and hard work led to discoveries that have helped so many people.
Her pioneering HIV research was possible because of discoveries she’d made before the AIDS pandemic, which she was then able to build on to respond to the developing crisis. I think we’ve seen that again with the amazing work that’s been carried out by scientists across the world to tackle the Covid-19 virus and come up with new vaccines – we can’t forget that these pivotal discoveries are only possible because of lifetimes of hard work and dedication by scientists like Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal throughout history.
Emmeline Pankhurst – The Suffragette
The founder of the suffragettes who fought for voting rights for women amongst a minority of multiple other women. She showed, commitment, consistency and dedication to proposing a change in view from the majority and eventually succeeded after several years. She didn’t only fight for her rights but for those who would otherwise try and ‘shut her up’ including planned threats of murder and starvation. Her determination and motivation inspires me to bring change in my own life and ensure that opportunities are always diverse and available to all.
Last but not least – The Mum! Alfie joined us on work experience and wrote about his Mum.
One reason why I am talking about my mother as an example of one woman in history who has helped me during this crisis, especially during the Coronavirus pandemic, is because she has been one of my biggest supporters. As I was not able to go out my mum talked with me and made me think that there was not even a pandemic and everything was normal.
Cheers to all the amazing Mums out there who have supported us during the Covid-19 crisis!
We hope these women have inspired you as much as they inspire us!