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Women Making Waves: Ten inspirational reads this International Women's Day

To celebrate International Women's Day, we've picked ten books about inspirational women for you to read from our Women Making Waves collection

1. Annie Russell Maunder (1868-1947)

Hired as a 'lady computer' at the Royal Observatory in 1891, Annie spent five years calculating and observing at Greenwich. Annie was one of the first women Fellows admitted to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1916. In 2018 the Royal Observatory unveiled the Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope, its first new telescope in over 60 years. 

 

Annie Russell Maunder is featured in the book Forgotten Women: The Scientists.

2. Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)

Caroline discovered eight comets, revised Flamsteed's Star Catalogue, and became the first paid female astronomer in history. She received many accolades for her discoveries, including a Gold Medal and Honorary Membership of the Royal Astronomical Society, Honorary Membership of the Royal Irish Academy, and the Gold Medal of Science from the King of Prussia. 

 

Read about her astronomical ambition in the book The Comet Sweeper.

3. Katherine Johnson (b. 1918)

Katherine Johnson is an African-American mathematician whose calculations have influenced every major NASA space program. In 1961, she calculated the launch window flight path for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. She was also instrumental in plotting the trajectories for John Glenn, the first American in orbit. Her computations were also essential in understanding the timing for launches including Apollo 11’s mission to the moon.

Katherine Johnson's story is beautifully illustrated as part of Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race. 

4. Mae Carol Jemison (b. 1956) 

Mae Carol Jemison is an American engineer, biologist and NASA astronaut. She became the first African American woman in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on 12 September 1992. Mae applied to NASA’s space program in 1983 after being inspired by Sally Ride’s mission. She joined NASA in 1987 and was selected as one of fifteen candidates chosen out of over 2,000 applicants. Image credit: NASA

Mae Carol Jemison is featured in the book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers.

5. Kalpana Chawla (1962-2003)

Kalpana Chawla was an American astronaut and engineer. She was the first woman of Indian origin to go to space and the second person from India to fly in space. Kalpana served in NASA as a mission specialist and robotic arm operator on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997. Six years after her first flight, she took her second trip aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, which ended in disaster. On 1 February 2003, her shuttle disintegrated on re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members including Kalpana.

Kalpana Chawla is featured in A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space.  

6. Queen Anne (1665-1714) 

Back in the spotlight due to the 2019 film The Favourite, this somewhat forgotten monarch held a strong connection to Greenwich and the Queen's House, as well as wielding power over politics. In the 17th century, the Florentine artist Orazio Gentileschi created a series of nine paintings, which were removed from the Queen’s House in 1708 and given by Queen Anne to her favourite, Sarah Churchill. The canvases were installed in Marlborough House, St James, where they remain to this day. A portrait of Queen Anne hangs in the Queen's House. Image:  National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection.

 

Sarah Churchill's relationship with Queen Anne is told in Ophelia Field's masterly biography.

7. Emma, Lady Hamilton (1765 -1815)

From maid to muse, pauper to politician, Emma Hamilton transcended barriers and transformed her story from an ordinary one into an extraordinary one. Emma became one of the most painted women of her time. Her choreographed poses (or tableaux vivants) which she called “Attitudes” were so sensational that they became known across Europe. Now largely remembered as the woman who captured the heart of the nation’s hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Emma was an extraordinary woman in her own right.

Read a fresh evaluation of Emma's artistic undertakings, in the exhibition book that accompanied the major exhibition at the National Maritime Museum. 

8. The women who travelled to Britain on the Windrush (1948)

On 22nd June 1948, the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Dock from the Caribbean bringing with it the first wave of West Indian women who contributed significantly to rebuilding post-war Britain and helped to transform it into a contemporary, multi-cultural society.

Read stories as told through the eyes of the black British community in War to Windrush: Black Women in Britain 1939 to 1948.

9. Janet Taylor (1804-70) 

Janet Taylor was a 19th century English astronomer and navigational expert. A talented mathematician, she began publishing on navigation in the 1830s and was rewarded by the Admiralty, Trinity House and East India Company for a simplified method for lunar-distance calculations to find Longitude. From 1835 she ran a prominent nautical school and navigation warehouse, selling charts and instruments near the Tower of London. Janet presented the future King Edward VII with a silver and gold quintant, now proudly on display in the National Maritime Museum. 


The Story of the Remarkable Janet Taylor, Pioneer of Sea Navigation, as told in the book Mistress of Science.

10. The recruits of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) (1917-1993)

The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was formed in 1917 during the First World War to support the Royal Navy at a time when it was suffering from a manpower shortage. Drawing women from across the nation into service, the Wrens played a vital role in the war effort and beyond, helping to change the opportunities afforded to women. During the Second World War, their role and duties were greatly expanded and Greenwich became an important centre for training officers.

Dive deeper into the contribution women have made to the Naval Service in Women and the Royal Navy. 

 

Discover more remarkable women and their achievements in our Book Shop.