by Tiffany Coulson, Mattawa Library

“Change obstacles into challenges. You might have to step back and go a different direction, but you can achieve.” Raye Montague

Whether they were famous artists, innovative scientists, disability activists, or accomplished sports figures, these women started out as curious, active, bright young girls.   Racism, sexism, poverty, lack of access to education,  as well as their own personal disabilities did not stand in the way of their success.  Stories of persistence can help girls  understand that achievement  is dependent on more than ability – it means you keep trying even when things are hard for you!   Check out these books celebrating girls who made an impact, or use them as a starting point to find out more about the amazing women they became!

“In our household there was a big emphasis on education. My mom expected us to work hard and do well.”  Dr. Ellen Ochoa Books that focus on the lives of young women who achieve often credit their mothers as influential in pushing beyond obstacles and instilling the belief that anything was possible for them.  

Dr. Ellen Ochoa’s was the first Hispanic woman to go into outer space as well as the first female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  She excelled as a student earning a Phd in electrical engineering and became an accomplished musician.  She was chosen to enter the elite NASA astronaut training program in 1990. Ellen was raised by a single Mom who was an example to her five children, using her spare time to take college classes.

“I think sometimes parents and teachers fail to stretch kids. My mother had a very good sense of how to stretch me just slightly outside my comfort zone.” Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin is an expert in animal science, and a well known speaker and author, writing books about her childhood, about animal care, outdoor science and autism.  As an autistic child, people told Temple’s mother, Eustacia, she would probably never talk and recommended she be put in an institution.  Her mother never gave up on her daughter and taught her to persist in being the very best she could be in spite of her challenges.

“I realized these people with disabilities are fighting for their right to be acknowledged and accepted…and I can too, and I want to be a part of that.”Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins

Jennifer and her mother, Cynthia began participating as disability civil rights activists  when she was only 6!  At the age of 7 she was  arrested for protesting in Montreal and at age 8 Jennifer was photographed crawling up the steps to the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Jennifer is now a college graduate.  She and  her Mom, who is her caregiver, continue to fight for the rights of the disabled.  

“You’ll have three strikes against you,” Raye Montague remembers her mother saying. “You’re female, you’re black and you’ll have a Southern segregated school education. But you can be or do anything you want, provided you’re educated.” 

Raye Montague was a brilliant woman who developed computer programs that changed the process of designing  Navy ships from 2 years, to one day.  Her mother instilled confidence in her from a young age when she wanted to study math and science but was not allowed to because of segregation.  Facing challenges both in her schooling and her work, she had great success as a computer programmer, ship designer, and manager becoming the first woman to manage the Navy’s ship program.

CITATIONS: Kanz, Bridgett. (2018, October). Raye Montague, a Barrier-Breaking Naval Ship Designer, Has Died at 83. Smithsonian Magazine. 
Little, Becky. (2020, July). When the “Capitol Crawl” Dramatized the Need for the Americans with Disabilities Act. History.  
Szalavitz, Maia. (2013, May). AUTISM Q&A: Temple Grandin on the Autistic Brain. Time. 
Interview with Ellen Ochoa Deputy Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. (n.d.) 

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