Amazing Women of Today and Yesterday

Featured ThemeSQ : Focus on Diversity

Today Sister Leadership would like to extend a big congratulations to Maryam Mirzakhani as the first female Fields Medal winner (equivalent in prestige to the Nobel Peace Prize) for her work in the symmetry of curved surfaces. “This is a great honour. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” shared Maryam on the Stanford website and was quoted by The Independent. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

Maryam’s achievement sets a precedent for the many women to come. But inspiration can also come from looking backwards to the amazing women of Canadian history. Another notable first was won by Anne Caroline Macdonald (who went by Caroline), the very first women (and a Canadian woman, too) to be honoured with a doctorate of Law from the University of Toronto for all of her advocacy work abroad. Like Maryam, Caroline had a specialization in mathematics.

But Caroline’s story is quite complex. It is, in a word, diverse.

mix nation diversity

Here on Sister Leadership, we define diversity as respecting beliefs that you may not share about religion, spirituality, politics, culture or other systems. Your capacity to embrace spiritual diversity relates to, or affects, the essence of your being, human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.

Raised in Canada, where her father was a politician, Caroline graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1901 from the University of Toronto. However, she moved away from the field of math when, in 1904, she went to Japan to establish a YWCA in that country. From here her career essentially explodes with new perceptions and advocacy.

Caroline had a strong spiritual connection. With the YWCA, she reached out to non-Christian women in Tokyo, Japan – she immersed herself in their culture and language, both of which she eventually mastered. During this time, she acted as a missionary through the YWCA, and supported families and single women in need.

Now here is where her life becomes even more fascinating. A man named Yamanda who attended her Bible studies class committed two acts of murder against his wife and child. Caroline took on some of that burden, having not addressed signs he had given that there was a problem. She became his advocate – and in the process, became an advocate for all men in the Japanese penal system.

In one of her letters, she recounts giving “a lecture on prison reform to a group of rather elegant Japanese ladies who had probably until that moment thought it not quite proper to think there was such a thing as a prison.”

Caroline crossed the divides between gender, culture and class.

From these experiences, she would go on to champion social change within Japan. In 1924 she was awarded the Sixth Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Emperor of Japan, and her honourary law degree was given in 1925.

Her story inspires me to think of all that is possible for a person with drive and passion, much as I was inspired when reading about Maryam Mirzakhani and the Fields Medal.

There are so many amazing women both in our past and in our present. As Maryam has shared, hopefully the stories of these ladies and others like them will inspire generations to come.

Do you have a story of crossing a barrier, or working within the field, culture, or expectations of others? We’d love to hear your diversity stories here on Sister Leadership; please feel free to comment!

Till next week,

Cam

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