Women’s History Month Blog

Frida Kahlo 1907-1954

Frida Kahlo was a painter who created unforgettable representations of pain and passion. She is best known for her self-portraits, and although she never received formal training, her work continues to fascinate people from around the world. She was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón in 1907 to a German father and a mother of Spanish and Mexican American descent. She was born, raised, lived, and died at Casa Azul, a blue house outside of Mexico City.

Kahlo turned away from her studies of medicine and began painting after a traumatic traffic accident at age 18 that broke several bones and pierced her abdomen and uterus. Many of her paintings reflect the pain she continued to experience despite numerous surgeries, as well as the pain of several miscarriages and her turbulent marriage to Diego Rivera. Both she and Rivera had extramarital affairs, several of hers with other women, but throughout their relationship they remained at the center of an international, politically active group of people. Like Rivera, Kahlo used her art to express her political and social views.

Kahlo’s work was most heavily influenced by her multicultural heritage, her personal experiences, and by the dramatic social and economic changes taking place in Mexico during her lifetime. Her paintings weren’t fully appreciated until after her death, but today she is recognized as a symbol of strength and an artist of great power.

–Submitted by Christy Malmsten, OCC Library Faculty

For more about Frida Kahlo, OCC Libraries suggests:


Rachel Louise Carson 1907-1964

Rachel Carson was an American biologist, conservationist and writer. Her seminal book Silent Spring (1962) brought mainstream awareness to environmental concerns and was instrumental in laying the foundation for the modern environmental movement. Silent Spring details the damaging effects of synthetic pesticides on the environment, and became an instant bestseller. Public outrage over the use of DDT and other pesticides prompted a governmental response, which eventually resulted in the ban of DDT and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.  Unfortunately, Carson passed away before seeing the full fruition of her work; however, in 1980 President Jimmy Carter awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom in honor of her literary and scientific contributions.

In her various writings, Carson was concerned with the inextricable link between humans and the natural environment and stated, “the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

–Submitted by Lisa Presley, Adjunct Librarian, OCC

To read more about Rachel Carson, OCC Libraries suggests:

Shirley Chisholm 1924-2005

Shirley Chisholm was an American politician, educator, and author. Elected to the House of Representatives from New York’s 12th Congressional district in 1969, she was the first African American woman elected to Congress. She eventually served seven consecutive terms as a New York State representative in the House.

In 1972, she became the first major political party black person to seek the nomination for President and the second woman to seek the office from a major political party. After winning primaries in Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey, she received a respectable count of 152 votes on the first ballot at the Democratic convention. During her time in Congress, she served on a number of prominent House committees and was one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus. She was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and worked to promote policies and programs to benefit disadvantaged groups.

When she retired from Congress in 1982, she moved to Massachusetts, where she taught politics and women’s studies at Mt. Holyoke College.

–Submitted by Mary Ann Sheble, Dean, Division of Learning Resources, OCC

To read more about Shirley Chisholm, OCC Libraries suggests:

Margaret Sanger 1879-1966


Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

A pioneering leader of the birth control movement in the United States, Margaret Sanger fought tirelessly for the reproductive rights of women. Trained as a public nurse, she worked in some of New York’s poorest areas during the early years of the 20th century and saw first- hand the deleterious health effects that the lack of sex education and repeated pregnancies had on working class women.

After witnessing a woman die from a self-induced abortion, she was determined to improve women’s access to family-planning and sexual health information. One of the many obstacles she faced was the fact that distributing this information was considered obscene and therefore illegal. Sanger was indicted in 1915 for sending birth-control pamphlets through the U.S. mail and arrested in 1916 for running a family planning clinic in Brooklyn. Despite these setbacks, Sanger didn’t give up her fight and went on to create the first physician run birth-control clinics, organize national and international conferences on family planning, and to establish the Birth Control Federation of America, the organization that would later become the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

–Submitted by Beth Garnsey, OCC Library Faculty

To read more about Margaret Sanger, OCC Libraries suggests:

Wangari Maathai 1940-2011

Wangari Maathai

Prof. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and political activist (who won the coveted Nobel prize for her effort towards sustainable development, democracy and peace) receives a trophy awarded to her by the Kenya national human rights commission for her contribution towards humanity.
Image by Demosh.


African environmental activist, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, women’s rights advocate.  She was noted for her activism in the areas of democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation.  She spoke to the United Nations and was world renowned for her expertise and advocacy.  She founded The Green Belt Movement and was an author of several books.   

Biography on The Green Belt Movement website

Biography on the Nobel Peace Prize website

–Submitted by Arlene Frank, Womencenter Program Coordinator

To learn more about Wangari Muta Maathai, OCC Libraries suggests her autobiography:

Albertina Sisulu 1918-2011

Albertina Sisulu

The University of Johannesburg confers an honorary doctoral degree to Albertina Sisulu in acknowledgment of her revolutionary role in opposing the pre-1994 government.
image by Dawidl at en.wikipedia

Her husband was Nelson Mandela’s right-hand man during the fight to end apartheid in South Africa.  Among the children she raised are 2 ambassadors, a defense minister and the speaker of the National Assembly in South Africa.   Yet, it is likely you may not have heard of Albertina Sisulu.  Also called “Ma Sisulu,” she made her home a classroom for children affected by apartheid and her garden a secret meeting place for social reformers.  Much of her adult life she was under government surveillance, house arrest and psychologically tortured in solitary confinement.  At her funeral in 2011, she was referred to as “the Rock of South Africa” due to her famous quote “You tamper with women, you tamper with the rock.”  

–Submitted by Terri Frank, OCC librarian

To read more about Albertina Sisulu, OCC Libraries suggests:

Gale Biography In Context – Topic