Vida Goldstein: a snapshot biography

Vida Goldstein

Vida Goldstein was arguably the most famous woman in Australia in the early 1900s.

Charming and well-spoken, an ardent fighter for equality and peace, Vida believed that women needed voting rights to achieve equality in society. Inspired by her beliefs, she worked hard to encourage more voices to stand for suffrage.

Her efforts helped pave the way for changes. Women in Australia were granted voting rights in Federal Elections in 1902. Vida ran for Parliament the following year in the first election in which women could run. And while Vida was not elected, she garnered about fifty-one thousand votes, roughly five percent of the total.

Vida would run for office four more times. Though she never earned enough votes to participate in Parliament, Vida continued dedicating herself to women’s rights.

“Vida Goldstein: a snapshot biography” sources: Portrait of Vida taken circa 1915 / Wikimedia Commons / The Daily News February 26th, 1906 / The Life and Work of Miss Vida Goldstein / Woman Suffrage in Australia Wikipedia

Irène Joliot-Curie: a snapshot biography

Portrait of Irène Joliot-Curie and Marie Curie

Her parents were the first married couple to win a Nobel Prize. She and her husband were the second.

Irène Joliot-Curie was born in Paris in 1897 to Marie and Pierre Curie. Her father passed away in an accident when Irène was nine years old. Marie raised Irène and her sister from then.

While Marie achieved much success in her work, she didn’t push Irène into a life of science. In the words of Irène on career advice that her mother offered: “One must do some work seriously and must be independent and not merely amuse oneself in life…but never that science was the only career worth following.”

But science and education, in general, were very much a part of Irène’s upbringing. Her mother, along with other prominent French scholars, created a learning cooperative for their children. Each child rotated, learning from the expertise of the scholars. Irène was not ten yet when she left public school to learn from her mother’s peers. And by her early teens, Marie made sure Irène was studying daily, even during summer breaks.

Irène grew into an assertive woman, unafraid to speak her mind, direct, and well-informed. She was passionate about sports, politics, but most of all, about science. And as her parents, Irène became a scientist. Irène would dedicate her research life to the study of radioactivity. For which she and her husband would win the Nobel Prize in 1935.

After winning the Nobel Prize, Irène also took an active role in politics, becoming Undersecretary of State for Scientific Research in France in 1936. And over the years, she would also dedicate herself to fighting for women’s rights.

Irène passed away in 1956 from acute leukemia.

“Irène Joliot-Curie: a snapshot biography” sources: Science Museum Group Wellcome Collection, (no changes made) / Wikimedia Commons / Mary Margaret McBride, A Long Way from Missouri / Biographical Encyclopedia of Scientists by John Daintith / Wikipedia

Quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sources: The Nobel Prize / The Seattle Times / Wikimedia Commons

Quote from Frida Kahlo: “I returned to school…

Quote from Frida Kahlo

“I returned to school, but I felt very sore and had little strength. I took my paintings to Diego, and he liked them a lot, most of all the self-portrait. But of the rest he told me that I was influenced by Doctor Atl and by Montenegro, and that I should try to paint whatever I wanted without being influenced by anyone else. That impressed me a lot, and I began to paint that I believed in. Then the friendship and almost courtship with Diego began. I would go to see him paint in the afternoon, and afterwards he would take me home by bus or in a Fordcito – a little Ford that he had – and he would kiss me.”

– Frida Kahlo

 “Quote from Frida Kahlo” sources: “Song of herself”; interviews by Olga Campos, Sept. 1950 & translation Salomon Grimberg; Merrell London, New York, 2008 / Frida Kahlo Wikiquote / Portrait of Frida Kahlo taken by her father, Guillermo Kahlo – Wikimedia Commons

Mary McLeod Bethune: A snapshot biography

Mary McLeod Bethune

People called Mary McLeod Bethune “The First Lady of The Struggle.” The struggle being improving life for African Americans.

Born in 1875 in a small cabin close to Mayesville, South Carolina, Mary was the fifteenth of seventeen children of parents who had been enslaved.

From a young age, Mary was inspired to learn. With encouragement from her parents, she’d walk five miles a day to attend the mission school nearby. The experience set a foundation for her life. “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read,” Mary would say.

For Mary, her love for learning evolved into a profession of teaching. And after some years of being a teacher, Mary opened the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training Institute for Negro Girls in 1904. The initial class of six students learned from a curriculum that began at 5:30am with Bible study and continued throughout the day with a focus on self-sufficiency skills development until the school day ended at 9pm. And with sparse financial resources, as Mary started the Institute with only $1.50, amongst a number of cost-saving initiatives, students made pencils from burned wood and ink from elderberry juice. But within a couple of years, the number of students attending grew to two hundred and fifty.

Mary had a motto for life: “not for myself, but for others.” Following this creed, she dedicated herself to many initiatives throughout life. Amongst educating young students, she opened a hospital and training programs for nurses, took an active role in politics, where she held a number of positions, including Director of Negro Affairs at the National Youth Administration, and helped integrate organizations such as the Red Cross.

Mary passed away in 1955. In her Last Will and Testament, she wrote nine maxims – “I leave you to love. I leave you to hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you a thirst for education. I leave you a respect for the use of power. I leave your faith. I leave you racial dignity. I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men. I leave you a responsibility to our young people.”

“Mary McLeod Bethune: ‘First Lady of The Struggle'” sources: / Coursen, W. L. (William Ludlow), 1880-1967. Mary McLeod Bethune – Daytona Beach, Florida. 1915 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 29 Nov. 2021.<>. /  Letter from Mary McLeod Bethune to Josephine T. Washington, 1946

A snapshot biography of Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells was sixteen years old when her parents and a younger brother passed away from yellow fever in 1878. As she coped with their death, Ida also challenged family members who wanted to split her and five younger siblings across foster homes. She took a job teaching and, with the support of her grandmother, took care of all the children.

With time, teaching evolved into writing. Ida became a journalist, writing about racial segregation and inequality. She was assertive, opinionated, not afraid to be controversial. She followed a belief that “the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

As a journalist, she would have her office destroyed by a mob, her life threatened. She had to move for safety reasons, but she continued to write, challenging accepted norms with the truth. Amongst many efforts and accomplishments, she fought for racial and gender equality, became a co-founder of the NAACP, and was a mother to four children with her husband and two from his previous marriage.

“A snapshot biography of Ida B. Wells” sources: Pich, Hollie. “Various, Beautiful, and Terrible: The Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells-Barnett.” Australasian Journal of American Studies, vol. 34, no. 2, 2015, pp. 59–74. JSTOR, Accessed 2 Nov. 2020. / / photo by Mary Garrity, circa 1893 (Note: photo is restored – Wikimedia Commons)

Quote from Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla portrait

“Of all things I liked books best. My father had a large library and whenever I could manage I tried to satisfy my passion for reading. He did not permit it and would fly in a rage when he caught me in the act. He hid the candles when he found that I was reading in secret. He did not want me to spoil my eyes. But I obtained tallow, made the wicking and cast the sticks into tin forms, and every night I would bush the keyhole and the cracks and read, often till dawn.”

– Nikola Tesla

“Quote from Nikola Tesla” sources: Portrait of Nikola Tesla taken by Napoleon Sarony, circa 1890 when Nikola was thirty-four years old / Wikimedia Commons / My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla / Nikola Tesla Wikiquote

Edith Wharton: biography of a writing pioneer

Edith Wharton

Born in New York City in 1862, Edith Wharton grew up in the comforts of a family of wealth and prestige, but as part of a high society of strict rules that encumbered women. The rules she promptly ignored, as Edith pursued her interests regardless of norms from a young age.

Enamored with learning, Edith became fluent in French, German, and Italian while spending many of her childhood years living in Europe. But while she perfected languages, it was writing and storytelling that captured her heart and mind. From early in life, she was inventing stories and writing poetry.

Continuing to work on her craft, at fifteen, Edith completed a thirty thousand word novella. That same year, she sold her first poem. By eighteen, literary magazines published multiple poems, though all under a pseudonym, as writing was not an acceptable profession for a woman of her class.

Writing would become Edith’s life work. She published forty-eight books and at least eighty-five short stories. And in 1921, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for her book, The Age of Innocence, becoming the first woman to receive the award.

Source: Photograph of Edith Wharton taken by E. F. Cooper, at Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1890. Cabinet photograph. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University / Wikimedia Commons

Josephine Baker: beloved performer and activist

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was described as “The most sensational woman anybody ever saw. Or ever will.” 

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906, Josephine experienced poverty in childhood, living in cardboard shelters in the slums and dancing on the street to make money. However, the street dancing turned into performing in a vaudeville act, as she pestered a show manager for a role. For that show, she traveled to New York, and her career had begun. 

While performing in New York was a good start, her big break came in Paris, where she moved in her late teens to leave the racism of America. In Paris, she thrived. Her dancing life found much success. And it was also while living in Europe that Josephine evolved her artistic career into singing and acting.

Josephine continued to live in Europe. Even as World War II involved France, she chose to stay, joining the French Military Intelligence Agency. Using her entertainer status to travel around Europe and charm in engaging with others, Josephine collected information in her role. She kept the notes in invisible ink on sheet music. 

After the war, Josephine took a more active role in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. She wrote articles about segregation, worked closely with NAACP, spoke the 1963 March on Washington, and refused to perform in segregated venues – a stance that helped drive integration. It was also during her years of working in the Civil Rights movement that Josephine began adopting children, calling her family the “Rainbow Tribe,” as her children were of different races and ethnicities.

Josephine passed away in 1975. France honored her with a state funeral. She is the only American-born woman to receive this honor.

“Josephine Baker: beloved performer and activist” sources: “The most sensational woman anybody ever saw. Or ever will.” – quote from Ernest Hemingway / Portrait of Josephine Baker taken in 1940 / Studio Harcourt / Wikimedia Commons