It was 1429. She was an illiterate French peasant, born in midst of the most notable conflict of the Middle Ages, the 100 Years War, in which five generations of kings from two rival kingdoms, England and France, fought over who should rule Western Europe.
Henry V of England at this point claimed the French crown and occupied northern France, including Paris, the most populous city, and Reims, a city of huge symbolic importance for the French: its kings had been crowned there since there were kings. In 1429 the rightful pretender to the throne, Charles VII, was holed up south of Loire River.
His military and political luck were about to change in the form of a teenage girl dressed as a man.
What would you do if suddenly your language, culture, and people were told they no longer had the right to exist?
Louis Riel organized. He would be martyred for his efforts.
Louis Riel was Métis. Have you ever heard of such people? Well, neither had I until Louis was nominated as a #HistoryHero.
The Métis were the descendants of French fur-trappers and indigenous Native American tribes who had trapped and farmed the Canadian Prairies (the mostly grassland area now comprising the southern regions of what is now Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) since the 17th century. While the Métis spoke French and were devoted Catholics, they were ruled autocratically by the London-based Hudson's Bay Company on behalf of Britain until 1869. That’s when the Company sold the vast region to the new Dominion of Canada without consulting or even informing the local inhabitants. This left the status of Métis farms and language rights unclear.
What would you do if your father told you, “What a pity you were not born a boy so that you could be good for something?”
Frances Dana Barker Gage harnessed it to demand equal rights for women.
Gage believed in the US Bill of Rights' promise of individual liberties. She was a fierce abolitionist as well, before, during, and after the Civil War. She gave her entire life, from the very first escaping slave she assisted as a girl, to agitating for the rights of those people her country's white founding fathers conveniently forgot, including herself.
Do you believe we are stronger united than divided?
So did King Kamehameha.
Every June, locals on Hawai’i Island offer mele prayers, hula dances, and lei wreaths to a radiantly painted, eight-foot sculpture of Hawai’i’s first king. Kamehameha Day honors the Hawaiian past as an independent nation, a history entwined with the legendary life of its greatest leader. Some locals believe that their offerings to the Kamehameha statue keep the statue alive as a protector of the Aloha Spirit, and that Kamehameha continues to watch over Hawai’i from atop his splendid pedestal...
Before Martin Luther King could march, Nelson Mandela could fast, or César Chávez could strike, Mahatma "Good Soul" Gandhi showed the entire world the power of nonviolent protest.
On June 7, 1893, then-24-year-old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was minding his own business in the first-class section of a South Africa train when a white man angrily demanded he be sent to the back. The reason? His skin color.
A spark of rebellion ignited inside of Gandhi, and he refused to move. As a result, he was forcibly tossed onto the platform of the next station stop. That's when he decided to dedicate his life to fighting prejudice.
How would you choose to smash the patriarchy?
Billie Jean King used her tennis racket.
It was 1973, the age of feminism. Women were burning bras and dumping their false eyelashes and high heels into the "freedom trash can." What’s more, they were demanding equal pay for equal work and equal attention in professional athletics.
Retired tennis champion Bobby Riggs assumed the role of male resistance. Never before had a man faced a woman in singles tennis. That was about to change: Riggs challenged Billie Jean King to a dual. Their confrontation on the court would become a global event.
On September 20, 1973, Bobby Riggs met Billie Jean King for the “battle of the sexes.” Ninety million people worldwide tuned in to watch.
You’ve heard of Carl Sagan, right?
Well, get ready to meet Margherita Hack!
While Margherita Hack was out-of-this-world brilliant, she stayed forever down-to-earth. Italy’s “Lady of the Stars” was an astrophysicist specialized in stellar spectroscopy, yet she was dedicated to communicating both her scientific findings as well as her political opinions in plain, understandable, everyday terms. As a result, she became one of her country’s most beloved cultural icons and one of it’s first “popular scientists.” Her accomplishments are all the more notable because astrophysics was then, as it is now, a male-dominated field.
Yet, she remains largely unknown to the international public. So we’re delighted to introduce her to you today.
How do you face an uphill battle with no guarantee of a successful outcome and no real end in sight?
César Chávez stayed committed, passionate, and strong.
César Chávez knew misery from as far back as he could remember. During the Great Depression, his family lost their Arizona ranch and grocery store and, to make ends meet, had no choice but to join the mass migration to California to pick produce. It was year-round, backbreaking work: cherries and beans in spring; corn and grapes in summer; cotton in fall; peas and lettuce in winter. They were always on the move, rarely clean, and forever hungry.
We’ve all grown up hearing about the achievements of “founding fathers." But what about the heroism of founding mothers?
Abigail Adams struggled with work-life balance and proved to an entire nation that, even in the 18th century, women had the capacity to lead as well as to bring up a family... and that they could do so at the same time!
Like most women of today, Abigail Adams wore many hats. As wife to the second U.S. President, John Adams, she was as dedicated to the domestic sphere as she was to the political. What's more, she practically wrote the book on what it means to be First Lady.
Do you believe laughter is the best medicine?
So did Charlie Chaplin.
Charlie Chaplin's own life had nearly as many twists and turns as the movies that made him perhaps the world's first global celebrity. His story begins in true rags-to-riches fashion, centering on a boy born in 1889 London. His father was largely absent so his mother Hannah, a singer and vaudevillian, brought up her sons, Charlie and Sydney, backstage. One night, so the story goes, Hannah – who performed under the name Lily Harley – lost her voice in the middle of a show. The production manager thrust five-year-old Chaplin onto stage in her place. He wowed the audience with his singing abilities and comedic timing -- at one point, bringing the house down by imitating his mother's cracking voice...
It could be said that Phillis Wheatley's journey from African slave to free published poet paved the way for the likes of Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. But have you ever heard of her, and her extraordinary story?
Sadly, most people haven’t. That’s why we’ve chosen to honor her today on the occasion of International Literacy Day.
Today is #NationalWildlifeDay. And we've got the perfect #HistoryHero to celebrate and commemorate this special event.
Even as a child, Jane Goodall loved animals. She liked to watch birds and to sketch them, as well as read zoology texts. As a five-year-old, she hid out in the family henhouse in order to discover where eggs came from. Her mother was frantic with worry. But when Jane emerged, wide-eyed with wonder, holding a newly hatched and still warm egg in her tiny hands, mum didn't have the heart to scold her little girl. Instead, she told Jane that if she worked hard, and took advantage of opportunities, she could be anything she wanted to be. But this was more easily said than done.
Today we join the world in remembering the “People’s Princess,” Lady Diana Spencer, the dedicated humanitarian who changed how the world views the British Monarchy as well as HIV/AIDS, depression, and the political use of landmines. She died 20 years ago today.
Not a day goes by without her surviving sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, wondering “what kind of public role she would have and what a difference she would be making," had she lived.
She was 36 years young when greed and a tragic accident took her from us. She is missed.
How do you confront ideologies of hate and intolerance?
Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for compassion.
In an era when white supremacists are once again emboldened and marching, uncovered, to defend the symbols of the United States' slaving past, a new monument has been unveiled in Atlanta, Georgia: an eight-foot bronze statue of the legendary civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This, just two weeks after counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was murdered at a gathering of racists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Dr. King now stands right outside the Georgia State Capitol, visible to drivers on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The replica of the historic figure gazes northeast in the direction of his boyhood home and Ebenezer Baptist Church where he and his father served as pastors, and where he is buried. It joins figures from Georgia's Confederate and segregationist past: alleged Ku Klux Klan leader, General John Brown Gordon, and U.S. Sen. Richard Russell, one of the staunchest opponents of the civil rights legislation King fought for and lost his life to win.
Has anyone ever underestimated what you were capable of?
No one was prepared for Laika.
On November 3, 1957, a tiny capsule rocketed into space. Inside was the diminutive body of a fourteen-pound dog. The occupant was named Laika, and she had become the first creature in history to leave Earth for the stars, initiating the era of human space exploration. It was no small accomplishment for a stray that only a few days earlier had been fighting for scraps of food on the streets of Moscow.
Laika’s unlikely journey was borne out of the desperate need to prove that spaceflight was possible.
Are you insatiably curious about the mysteries of the universe?
So was Albert Einstein.
In 1915, the then unknown German-born theoretical physicist introduced a groundbreaking idea to the world: he suggested that space is not “inert,” but that the momentum of objects, or energy, in combination with gravity fields cause it to bend and shift. He called it the Theory of General Relativity.
The scientific community was naturally skeptical. The reigning theory had been put forward 228 years before, in 1687, by none other than Sir Isaac Newton. But young Einstein felt that the legendary Englishman had missed an important factor in the essential equation: time.
On Saturday, August 12, 2017, I boarded a Boeing 787 – the Dreamliner –bound for the USA. When I arrived, my phone flashed the horrible headlines: a young woman, known by her friends as a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised, had died at the hands of another. This was no dream. Neither was it an accident.