Mark Juddery, author of Overrated: The 50 Most Overhyped Things in History, knows a lot about hype. And as much as we love a good takedown, we asked him to explore the unknown and name 10 underrated women in history. Are they the most underrated? He doubts that, but they are 10 women who, he says, "should be more famous."
Historians argue over Murasaki Shikibu's (c.978-1030) Tale of Genji. Some say it was the first great novel in world literature; others say it was the first novel, full-stop. Little is known about her, but Genji is considered a masterpiece, even among modern literary critics — and a must-read romance novel.
Described as “the 20th century’s most footloose traveler," Alexandra David-Néel (1868-1969) saw a lot in her 100 years.
She crossed the Alps, cycled through Europe (when bikes were wild and new), and studied Hinduism in India and Buddhism in China. She left her husband for Tibet and then returned home to France after 14 years, where she built a Tibetan-style fortress and wrote some of the most essential travel books ever. As she approached 70, she went back on the road.
Source: Von Riesling
Well before Hillary, Condi, or Nancy, there was Frances Perkins (1880-1965). President Franklin Roosevelt appointed her secretary of labor (not just a token job) in 1933, and she went on to play an essential part in the New Deal and be the second-longest-serving cabinet member in US history.
Nurse Elizabeth Kenny (1886-1952) devised a revolutionary polio treatment; sadly, Australia's medical establishment refused to take her seriously. She went to the US and Britain, where her work was accepted far more readily. Though she changed the way polio was treated (and cured), she is still not recalled as a medical genius.
If inventors were as revered in the 19th century as they were in the 20th, Beulah Henry (1887-1973) would be famous. Though she had a role in over 100 inventions—the can opener, inflatable doll, hair curlers, the vacuum ice cream freezer, and the “protograph” (a primitive photocopying machine) —she only has 49 US patents.
When naming female philosophers, only two initially come to my mind: Ayn Rand and Simone de Beauvoir, but Hannah Arendt (1906-1976), was one of the 20th century's most innovative political theorists.
Interned in a German camp during World War II, she escaped to America and went on to make sense of the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism in her writing.
Source: Picassa user Meus ídolos
Math genius, naval officer, and computer pioneer, Grace Hopper (1906-1992) proved computers could be more than giant adding machines; they could write programs that could make computers accessible to nongeeks.
She did get some respect, though. When the Data Processing Management Association (catchy, hey?) announced their first Man of the Year award in 1969, the winner was . . . a woman!
Irena Sendler (1910-2008) saved some 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. She was later captured and tortured by Gestapo, but refused to identify the children (now living new lives) or her accomplices. She escaped after a guard was bribed and went on to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Along with Nikola Tesla (look him up), Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) is the patron saint of mistreated and underrated scientists – and possibly the most important woman in scientific history.
She unraveled the structure of DNA, which is still changing the world, and was part of a team that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. But she died in 1958 (at 37) from ovarian cancer, and the Nobel is never awarded posthumously. In fact, her work remained unacknowledged by colleagues until 1968.
We guys spend hours arguing about who was the greatest sportsman ever. If we just changed that word to sportsperson, there wouldn’t be so much arguing. Babe Zaharias (1914-1956) broke world records in basketball, baseball, javelin and hurdles! Versatile or what?
In a 1982 poll of sports historians, she was ranked America’s second-greatest athlete, behind Babe Ruth (after whom she was named), even though he only played one sport. Even ranked #2, she was underrated!