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5 Asian American Women Who Changed History

5 Asian American Women Who Changed History

Growing up as an Asian American woman, it was oftentimes difficult having to come to the harsh realization that there were little to no discussions or mentions of people who looked like me in the classroom. You always heard about a white male making xyz scientific discovery or founding the next big multimedia company, but where was the recognition for Asian Americans that accomplished equally impressive feats?

There’s so much more to us than war-torn memories and bubble tea. In fact, Asian Americans are at the heart of some of the biggest moments in history, and you probably didn’t even know it. In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’re highlighting some of our favorite influential Asian American women throughout history.

Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, the “First Lady of Physics”

Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu was often referred to as the “First Lady of Physics” and the “Chinese Marie Curie.” One of the most renowned physicists to date, she was at the forefront of developing the atomic bomb during World War II through her work at the Manhattan Project at Columbia University.

After the war, she conducted groundbreaking experiments, but was snubbed the Nobel Prize for her discoveries by her male colleagues. Unfortunately, this is the sad reality for many women in science: not being credited or acknowledged for their crucial contributions. Despite the setback, she went on to win several accolades and even became the first female president of the American Physical Society.

Patsy Mink, the first woman of color in Congress

Patsy Takemoto Mink was born a true trailblazer. Not only was she the first woman of color *and* first Asian American woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives, but she was also the first Asian American to run for president. During her time as a congresswoman, Patsy fought tirelessly for a number of causes including gender and racial equality, bilingual education, affordable childcare and most notably, Title IX. In 1972, Patsy co-authored and helped passed this significant piece of civil rights law that protects women from discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance like sports.

Grace Lee Boggs, revolutionary activist and author

Grace Lee Boggs was an author and human rights activist. She fought the frontlines of the Black Power Movement in Detroit alongside the likes of Angela Davis, Malcolm X and her husband, African American activist James Boggs. She authored several books and served as a columnist for the Michigan Citizen, a Detroit-based newspaper, writing about issues of labor and civil rights, feminism, the environment and more. 

Maya Lin, groundbreaking designer and architect

At age 21 while she was still a student at Yale, Maya Lin won a contest to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Her entry was one among thousands, and she won despite not being a trained architect like the badass that she is. Unfortunately, her design was initially met with much backlash due to the untraditional, abstract design, her ethnicity and lack of professional work experience. In the end, a compromise was reached and a statue of three soldiers holding an American flag was added to her monument design. 

Maya went on to design several significant works of art including the Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama and Museum of Chinese in America in New York. Barack Obama even honored her with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

Junko Tabei, the first woman to climb Everest

Last but not least, Junko Tabei became the first woman to summit Mount Everest in 1975. Shortly thereafter, she became the first woman to climb all Seven Summits, or the highest peak of each continent, in 1992. These were incredible achievements not only for the intense physical demand required, but also because climbing was and still is historically a male-dominated field. Junko was also an advocate for environmental initiatives to further sustainability in climbing, and also formed and presided over an all-women climbing club.

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