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Profiles in Women's History


(CNN Student News) -- The following profiles feature prominent women in the fields of politics, law, sports, science and business.

Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan (1921-2006) is best known as a philosopher of modern-day feminism. In 1957, several years after graduating from Smith College, she began to send questionnaires to other women and note that they were dissatisfied with their lives. Friedan organized this information into a bestselling book, "The Feminine Mystique," published in 1963. The book detailed the frustration of women who were expected to rely on their husbands and children for their happiness. In 1966, Friedan was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW), dedicated to achieving equal opportunities for women. She also co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus, saying it was organized "to make policy, not coffee."

Sally Ride

Sally Ride (1951 - ) was the first American woman to travel into outer space, though at first she considered a career in professional tennis. She was selected for a NASA astronaut training program while working on her doctorate in astrophysics at Stanford University. Ride became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983, as a member of the shuttle Challenger crew. Later, she said of that six day mission, "The thing that I'll remember most about the flight is that it was fun. In fact, I'm sure it was the most fun I'll ever have in my life." She was training for a third mission when the Challenger exploded after it launched in January 1986. Ride served on commissions investigating both the Challenger and the Columbia shuttle tragedies. Though no longer active in the space program, Sally Ride works on programs that promote science and math, especially for girls, and she has authored children's books about space.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

At a time when women were not expected to be athletes, Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias (1914-1956) dominated not just one sport, but all of them. Nicknamed Babe for her "Ruth-like" homeruns, Didrikson first achieved national attention during the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, where she won gold medals and broke her own world records in both the javelin and the 80-meter hurdles. By 1933, she turned to golf, where she would eventually win more than 50 tournaments, including three U.S. Women's Opens. In 1950, after Zaharias outbragged and outcompeted her rivals for two decades, the Associated Press named her the "Greatest Female Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century."

Billie Jean King

For two decades, world-renowned tennis player Billie Jean King (1943 -) dominated the sport with 695 match victories, including six Wimbledon and four U.S. Open titles. But one of her best-known titles came in 1973 at the height of the women's liberation movement. In the so-called "Battle of the Sexes," King defeated the self-proclaimed "male chauvinist" Bobby Riggs in a match that the London Sunday Times called "the drop shot and volley heard 'round the world." A pioneer and activist for women's rights, King used her accomplishments on the court to help pave the way for the next generation of female athletes. In 1990, LIFE magazine named her one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century."

Danica Patrick

American racecar driver Danica Patrick (1982 - ) first started racing at age 10, following her sister's interest in go-karts. Patrick quickly showed her talent for speed, zooming to top-10 finishes and titles throughout her young career. In 2005, she became the first female racecar driver to lead an open-wheel championship series, and Patrick was named the IndyCar Series' Rookie of the Year.

Marie Curie

Polish-born Marie Curie (1867-1934) was always an exceptional student. But when she and her husband were recognized in 1903 for their groundbreaking physics research, she became the first female winner of a Nobel Prize. Another such award was to follow: In 1911, Curie received a Nobel Prize for chemistry after she discovered the elements radium and polonium. This honor made her the first individual ever to receive multiple Nobel Prizes.

Margaret Thatcher

Known as the "Iron Lady" for her strong leadership, Margaret Thatcher (1925 - ) made European history in 1979 by becoming the continent's first female head of state. She served as British prime minister for 11 years, emerging as the only 20th century British leader to win three consecutive elections. Thatcher also led her country to victory over Argentina in the 1982 Falklands War. After she stepped down in 1990, Thatcher started a foundation to promote democracy and international cooperation. She later received Britain's highest civil and military honor, the Order of the Garter.

Geraldine Ferraro

Author of a book entitled "Changing History," Geraldine Ferraro (1935 - ) made history herself when she became the first American woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket. Ferraro was the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale in 1984. Though the pair did not win, Ferraro remained politically active and served as a permanent member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1993 to 1996. Her resume also includes work as a teacher, attorney and U.S. representative.

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright was born May 15, 1937 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. As the Nazis invaded that country before world war two, Albright and her family fled and eventually settled in the U.S. She graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and later received master's doctorate degrees from Columbia University in New York. By the late seventies, she was working in the white house for President Jimmy Carter's national security team. In 1993, she became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. And in 1997, the senate approved Albright as the 64th U.S. secretary of state, and the first woman to ever hold the position.

Donna Shirley

As a teenager in a small Oklahoma town, Donna Shirley dreamed of exploring Mars and took an intense interest in flying airplanes. Before she was out of her teens, she was flying solo and earning her pilot's licenses. Shirley entered college in the 1950s, to study aerospace engineering when engineering schools were still an all-male stronghold. She was successful, earning bachelor's degrees from the University of Oklahoma, USC and a master's from the University of Southern California. Shirley spent 32 years at NASA's jet propulsion lab, the lead U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system, where she managed the Mars exploration program. In 1997, the world watched as two of her projects - the Mars Pathfinder and the Sojourner Microrover - landed on Mars. Two months later, the Mars global surveyor went into orbit around the red planet - some of NASA's greatest successes.

Anne Mulcahy

As chairman and CEO of Xerox, Anne Mulcahy knows about far more than just making copies. Born in Rockville Centre, New York in 1952, Mulcahy earned a bachelor's degree in English and journalism from Marymount College. She has spent most of her 30-year career at Xerox, starting off as a field sales representative and gradually moving up the ranks to hold senior management and executive positions. In 2002, she pulled Xerox out of a near-fatal slump, helping the company to stand out in the printing and copying business, despite a slew of competitors. In addition to heading up Xerox, Mulcahy also serves on the boards of directors at Catalyst, Citigroup, and Target.

Meg Whitman

You may not know the name Meg Whitman, but you no doubt know the name of the company she runs - eBay. Born in 1957, Whitman grew up in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, on Long Island. In the late 1970's, she earned an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, and a master's degree in business administration from Harvard University. Before joining eBay, Whitman held top-level jobs at a number of major companies, including Walt Disney, Stride Rite, and FTD. In the late 1990's, she was tapped to become president and CEO of the online auction firm eBay. Under her leadership, the company's revenues for 2000 exceeded $430 million, an increase of 92% over 1999. EBay continues to thrive. In 2005, it generated revenues of more than $4.5 billion and posted a record 1.9 billion listings. Whitman has been described as "relentlessly optimistic," just one key to her success.

Sandra Day O'Connor

Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Born in El Paso, Texas in 1930, O'Connor grew up on a large family ranch in Arizona. She earned undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University, but was unable to get a job with a law firm because she was a woman. After holding various jobs in the legal field and starting to raise a family, O'Connor became an assistant attorney general for the state of Arizona -- then a Republican lawmaker in the state senate, where she served as majority leader - the first woman in the United States to hold such a position. She also served as a judge at a county superior court and a state court of appeals in 1981. President Ronald Reagan nominated her to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. She was confirmed unanimously by the Senate, and was sworn in as the first female justice in history. During her 24 years on the high court, O'Connor was considered a decisive swing vote in many key decisions. She retired from the bench in 2006.

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