Throughout history, a multitude of women have shaped the course of life as we know it, from major scientific discoveries to securing voting rights across the globe. However, it has only been over the past century that their feats have started to gain the recognition they deserve. Sydenham High School, part of Girls’ Day School Trust, a leading group of independent girls’ schools in the UK, brings you a list of inspirational women that everyone should know about.

Sophie Scholl

German anti-Nazi political activist of the White Rose 
(May 1921 – February 1943)

During the height of the Nazi era, a non-violent group known as the White Rose emerged who adopted a strategy of passive resistance to Hitler’s rule by publishing leaflets calling for social justice and democracy. Sophie Scholl, a student from Munich University, risked her life to distribute White Rose leaflets. She was caught, convicted for treason and executed, but her death was not in vain; her tireless work led to one of the leaflets being smuggled out of Germany and then falling into the hands of the Allied Forces, who dropped millions of copies over Germany.

Her courageous work in the resistance tremendously aided in undoing some of the brainwashing caused by the Nazis. Her bravery and strong moral compass make her an excellent role model. 

Ada Lovelace

One of the first computer programmers in the world 
(December 1815 – November 1852)

Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer who met Charles Babbage, known today as the ‘father of the computer’, when she was 17. Babbage had invented a machine that was supposedly only able to perform mathematical calculations. However, after previewing the machine before its completion, Lovelace invented her own theories about the machine. 

This included a method in which the machine could repeat a series of instructions through letters, symbols and numbers. This process is known as ‘looping’ and is something which computer programmes still use today. Due to this discovery, and the fact that she was able to realise the true potential of technology, Lovelace is regarded as the first computer programmer in the world. In a time when gender stereotypes have no place, fearless women like Ada are crucial.

Rosalind Franklin

Pioneer in the discovery of DNA 
(July 1920 – April 1958)

Franklin was an English Scientist who specialised in crystallography and X-ray diffraction. In 1951, Franklin began working as a research associate at King’s College London where she studied DNA fibres in depth. Her research led to one of the most important discoveries in human history –  the discovery of ‘the secret life’ – the structure of DNA. 

The photo she took that proved the existence of DNA was acquired after 100 hours of X-ray exposure from a machine that Franklin herself had refined. Many other scientists took her research and used it to support their evidence of a DNA model, taking the credit for her discovery & even winning Nobel Prizes based on her work. Franklin was educated at a private day school for girls, allowing her to excel and eventually make one of the most important discoveries of all time.

The Suffragettes

 The women who risked it all to get the vote 
(October 1903 -1918)

The world ‘suffrage’ means having the right to vote in political elections. Women had been campaigning to get the vote for decades but it wasn’t until the Suffragettes involvement that they managed to achieve this goal. The Suffragettes were a women’s organisation – members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – who fought tirelessly to gain women the right to vote. Founded in 1903 in Britain by Emily Pankhurst, the WSPU realised that women had to ‘do the work themselves’ in order to win the right to vote and the Suffragettes’ motto became ‘deeds not words’. 

They began organising militant protests and risked being thrown in prison due to their disruptive tactics which included smashing windows and blowing up postboxes. They were arrested, assaulted by police and even tortured during their time in prison. However, their persistence meant that the British Government couldn’t ignore them and in 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed, finally giving women the right to vote in the UK. They also gave other nations a push to do the same. The Suffragettes’ bravery is a perfect example of the importance of inspiring positive change through resilience, a key aim of Sydenham High School.   

Khadijah Mellah

 Sydenham High’s very own inspirational woman

In honour of this piece, Sydenham High has put forward their choice of inspirational woman, their very own Khadijah Mellah – a Year 13 racehorse superstar. Khadijah began her sporting journey at Sydenham, trying out for the cricket and rowing teams before discovering her passion for horses. She joined the Ebony Horse Club in Brixton and was determined to train alongside her A-level studies, demonstrating her fantastic work ethic and willingness to step out of her comfort zone.

Khadijah overcame adversity after falling from her horse in the spring and continued to pursue her love of racing. Her ambition paid off, as she was invited to take part in the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood, a race to raise money for the charity Wellbeing of Women. Not only did she race against celebrities such as cycling Olympian Victoria Pendleton and model Vogue Williams, after only four months of training on a race horse, but Khadijah won the race.

The 18-year-old made headlines in France, Turkey, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and South Africa, to name just a few, and has filmed a documentary called ‘Riding a Dream’ which airs this autumn, by which time she will have started her Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Brighton. 

Sydenham High is immensely proud of Khadijah’s achievements and many pupils find her inspiring not only due to her sporting success, but her ambition, determination and work ethic. All of these inspirational women exhibit the kind of values Sydenham High encourages in its pupils; the motto of Nyle ye Drede, meaning ‘Fear nothing’ lies at the heart of everything they do. 

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