Chess queen wearing a crown

8 women whose awesome achievements have been totally overshadowed

As Natalie Portman’s epic “all male” moment at the 2017 year Golden Globes showed, women are getting pretty sick of having their talents and successes underestimated and overshadowed. From being referred to as “so-and-so’s wife” to just not getting equal pay, the tendency to downplay our moments of glory is nothing new and certainly not something limited to the film industry. In fact, it’s been happening pretty much forever.

So, in honour of setting the record straight, let’s look back at a few ladies who have had their awesome achievements totally overlooked by history. Prepare to kick yourself for not knowing about these women already.

The codebreaker: Elizebeth Friedman

Spending her working life cracking codes on behalf of the FBI, US Navy and Canadian government, Elizebeth Friedman’s incredible talent for cryptology helped to jail gangsters, capture smugglers and hunt down enemy spies during WW2. Yet, it is her husband William who is frequently celebrated as a pioneer of American cryptology - despite her having introduced him to the field and despite them having worked together for years. The US National Security Agency finally added her to their Hall of Honour in 1999, almost 20 years after she passed away. 

Elizebeth Friedman Credit: NSA/ Hall of Honour

The astronaut: Peggy Whitson

If I asked you to name three astronauts, there’s a good chance Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and John Glenn would be the first three that spring to mind. But American astronaut Peggy Whitson has not only actually spent more time in space than any of them, but also more than any other American in history, racking up an incredible 665 days. If that wasn’t enough, she’s also the oldest woman to complete a spacewalk. Go Peggy!

The explorer: Simone Melchoir Cousteau

Simone Cousteau has long been thought of as the wife of explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, but this tag understates quite how badass, brave and influential she actually was. A scuba diver and aquanaut who sailed more miles than any woman in history, she was not only with her husband through each and every one of his research adventures, she also took a commanding role in helping to organise and keep them on track, even selling her jewellery to help finance missions. “She was an extraordinary woman. My grandfather wouldn’t have been able to do everything that he did if she hadn’t been by his side,” her granddaughter later said.

The spy: Agent 355

James Bond might be the world’s most iconic spy, but long before he was off saving the world and ordering Martinis, America’s Agent 355 was spying for the US government during the Revolutionary War. And although her identity has still never been confirmed, it is believed she was a member of a prominent Loyalist family who used her connections to glean information about the British and pass it back to high-ups including founding father George Washington, warning them of upcoming attacks. 

Woman with gun in dark Credit: Pexels

The geneticist: Nettie Stevens

When expecting a baby, "boy or girl?" is often one of the first questions that parents-to-be ask, but it was a female geneticist, Nettie Stevens, who first discovered how sex is determined. She cottoned on to the link between chromosomes and sex-determination by looking at variations in the sperm of mealworms, but it is her contemporary, EB Wilson, who separately reached the conclusion in the same year, who is often credited. She was actually one of the first women to be recognised for her contribution to science - and yet, so many of have never even heard of her.

The author: Zelda Fitzgerald

We’ve all heard of the author F. Scott Fitzgerald, but his wife Zelda, was a novelist and painter in her own right. Many of the lines uttered in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s greatest novels are acknowledged to have been things she said in real life, including Daisy Buchanan’s famous “beautiful little fool” comment, which Zelda is said to have explained when her own daughter was born. A published writer herself, her husband is said to have forced her to change much of the content in her own novel because he wanted to use it in Tender is the Night, which went on to become one of his most revered works.

The filmmaker: Alice Guy

Born in 1873 in Paris, Alice Guy was the first person to ever write and direct narrative fiction films, the first woman ever to run her own studio and is estimated to have directed up to 1,000 films during her 24-year career. Despite being a true cultural trailblazer, she received little credit for her work outside of France - who awarded her their highest non-military honour in 1953 - and it wasn’t until 2004 that the first marker to her work was established in New Jersey, where her Solax Studio once stood.

Alice Guy Credit: Colombia University Libraries Women Film Pioneers Project/Royal Belgian Film Archive

The civil rights campaigner: Anna Arnold Hedgeman

The March on Washington, at which Martin Luther King delivered his iconic "I Have A Dream" speech, is frequently held up as a turning point in the struggle for civil rights and credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it couldn’t have happened without Anna Arnold Hedgeman, who helped organise the entire event by bringing together thousands of protesters from various groups; she was the only woman on the committee, having lobbied for women to have a place at all. And as monumental as this day was, it is only one moment in a whole lifetime of civil rights work which saw her interact with some of the most powerful figures in government. 

The athlete: Katie Ledecky

And proving that this kind of thing isn't just confined to history, meet US swimmer, Katie Ledecky. Despite being only 20-years-old, she's already a 14 time world-champion, has won five Olympic gold medals, one silver, and currently holds the world records for the women's 400, 800, and 1500-metre freestyles, as well as having recorded the fastest-ever times in the women's 500, 1000, and 1650-yard freestyle events. But as this newspaper front page - which was printed the day after Ledecky set a new world record - shows, it's all too easy to be overlooked when there's someone with a name to talk about, even when they don't necessarily deserve it. Sigh.

There's a saying that behind every great man is a great woman, and these inspirational females certainly seem to prove that old adage true. It kind of makes you wonder though, 100 years from now, whose stories will we be telling?