“Narrowing down this list was an exquisite nightmare,” explains author Zing Tsjeng of compiling “Forgotten Women,” a new book series that explores the achievements of extraordinary females who history has largely overlooked.
Released in tandem with International Women’s Day on Thursday, the series’ first two titles — “The Leaders” and “The Scientists” — explore the outstanding contributions in those spheres by women who defied the times in which they lived.
“Women have always been achieving great things,” explains Tsjeng, who is the U.K. editor of Vice.com’s female-oriented vertical Broadly. “It’s just they’ve never gotten the proper credit. This day and age, we’re absolutely desperate to look for female role models and inspirational women, but my entire feeling is that we should look more toward the past.”
The list of historically neglected notables, which is colorfully illustrated by 12 contemporary female artists, includes German mathematician Emmy Noether, who developed a theorem essential to modern physics; English chemist Rosalind Franklin, who helped discover the structure of DNA (but whose achievements were attributed to her male colleagues), and Byzantine empress Zoë Porphyrogenita, among many others. But choosing a standout historical figure from the dozens on Tsjeng’s list is nearly impossible for the Singapore-born writer.
“I feel like everyone deserves equal amounts of attention,” the author says diplomatically before singling out Shirley Chisholm, the late politician who was the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, initially in 1968. “Here she is, a black woman trying to represent her constituency, going up against really conservative Republicans and not standing down. What she represents in this current time is something really powerful,” adds the 29-year-old.
The U.K.-based journalist teamed with The New Historia, a project at The New School in New York that “aims to unearth women’s histories in academia,” to tell the stories of women going as far back in time as Babylonian chemist Tapputi-Belatekallim in 1200 B.C. and includes women from around the world. Each title intentionally profiles 48 women, which is the number of Nobel Prize-winning women.
As the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements continue to gain momentum, Tsjeng — who brands herself as a spokeswoman for Millennial women — has become “even more determined to do the women [in the books] justice” given the current social climate. “Things have always been pretty bad [for women’s rights], but this is proof that people have always been fighting it.”
“At the end of the day, what unites all these women is having the self-belief to know they have something to say and something to do in this world,” adds Tsjeng. “That kind of confidence is infectious.”
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