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Leading Ladies

Gertrude Ederle (1903-2003)

Swimmer, USA

Gertrude Ederle was born in New York City on October 23, 1905. She was a champion swimmer by her late teen years, and she competed for the first time in the 1924 Olympics. In 1926, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel, the 21 miles of water between England and the European mainland! Her record-breaking achievement brought her fame and acclaim. Five male swimmers had already crossed the channel, but she wanted to be the first woman to achieve this goal. She held the record for 24 years after her 1926 feat and was regarded as the ‘Queen of the waves’. She very simply said:

“I just knew that if it could be done, it had to be done. And I did it.”

Wangari Maathai (1940-2011)

Activist, Kenya

A renowned social, environmental and political activist, Wangari fought for causes close to her heart. Wangari was a visionary! Her hard work paid off as she was the first woman in East & Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. (Crazy to think about, right?) She set up the Green Belt Movement, a conservation-based not-for-profit in 1977, and later became a parliament member. Wangari placed no limits on her life and was given 13+ awards. One of which was a Nobel Prize as the first African woman to win it. She said it perfectly:

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to present and future generations to rise up and walk!”

Junko Tabei (1939-2016)

Mountaineer, Japan

Junko Tabei was born in Kawagoe Japan in 1939. Her interest in mountaineering was ignited by a classroom mountain-climbing expedition when she was a child. By 1992 Tabei had become the first woman to summit the highest mountain on each of the seven continents—the so-called Seven Summits. In addition, she attempted to reach the top of the highest mountain in each country, and she conquered some 70 of the peaks on that list! She later became an environmental advocate and completed graduate studies at Kyushu University, studying the impact of the garbage left on mountains by climbers. As encouragement, Junko said,

“Do not give up – keep on your quest.”

Jean Batten (1909-1982)

Aviator, New Zealand

Beating record after record, Jean Batten is one of the most decorated pilots in history, especially for women. In November 1935 she became the first woman to fly herself across the South Atlantic. In October 1936 she went one step further and made the first ever direct flight from England to New Zealand. She broke records for journeys from England to Australia, England to Brazil, and made the first solo flight from England to New Zealand in her trusty Gipsy Moth plane. The name of the plane was incredibly fitting as Jean created a life for herself all over the globe. Never staying too long in one place, she believed adventure was out there and had her sights set on breaking any norm society placed on her. She famously said:

“Every flyer who ventures across oceans to distant lands is a potential explorer; in his or her breast burns the same fire that urged adventurers of old to set forth in their sailing-ships for foreign lands.”

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