7 Ladies of History That Knew How to Use Their Brain Magic

For most of my life, historical women have inspired me. It probably started with American Girl. These dolls represented young women at different points in history, and they each had books that told their story. While many of the books have been criticized of over-simplifying complex history, it helped to spark my thirst and interest in historical women.

My love of American Girls probably influenced my decision in fourth grade to enter the History Fair for the first time. History Fair was a competition where students created a presentation that fit into a theme. First, I did a presentation on Harriet Tubman, then I and some friends did a play about Women’s Suffrage. I found these historical women so inspiring, and I like to think they helped shape my own brain magic.

That’s why we want to keep celebrating historical women and their brain magic, because there’s still so much insight and inspiration they bring us!

1. Elizabeth Keckley

Elizabeth is a fave historical phenom of the Brain Magic team. Although she was born a slave, Elizabeth used her incredible brain magic and taught herself to read and write. Oh, and she had some mad dressmaking skills. After working for years sewing dresses for local women on the side, Elizabeth bought her own freedom with a lofty career goal in mind – make dresses for the First Lady of the United States. Elizabeth continued sewing dresses and worked for prominent southern society ladies, including Mrs. Jefferson Davis. And it was Mrs. Davis who eventually recommended Elizabeth to the new First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln.

Elizabeth worked for Mrs. Lincoln throughout her husband’s presidency, and she was there for many of the HUGE moments for the family. And after Abraham Lincoln’s death, Elizabeth ended up being the distraught Mary’s only friend. She was pretty much a the coolest, and deserves our #1 Brain Magic spot. And if you want to know more, you can read all about her life in her beautifully written memoir, Behind the Scenes or Thirty Years a Slave, Four Years in the White House.

“None of us are perfect, for which reason we should heed the voice of charity when it whispers in our ears, “Do not magnify the imperfections of others.” – Elizabeth Keckley

2. Cleopatra

This was a lady that did whatever it took to protect her country, including smuggling herself in a rug! Cleopatra lived mostly in Alexandria, and is remembered as the Last Queen of Egypt. If you’ve ever read Stacy Schiff’s book about Cleopatra (and we recommend you do), you’ll see that her attractiveness was ALL about her brain magic! She was eloquent, persuasive, and witty – what a queenly competition.

3. Amelia Earhart

Of course many of us know Amelia for the stat that she was the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic. But it wasn’t just sheer interest and coincidence that propelled Amelia into a man’s profession. In fact, Amelia knew from an early age that she wanted a career in a predominantly male field, and she admired the women who had done so before her. Eventually, Amelia used her brain magic to soar through the skies and into our hearts.

“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.”  – Amelia Earhart

4. Mae Jemison

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To celebrate another incredible lady who took to the skies, we have to talk about Mae Jemison. Mae was inspired seeing Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek as a little girl, and she knew that she had to go to space. Of course, thanks to her brain magic, Mae’s dream came true, and she became the first African American woman to go to space. Grace was also a dancer and received nine, yes NINE   Learn more about Mae Jemison.

5. Queen Elizabeth I

Because you can rule the greatest Navy in the (17th century) world AND rock some serious bling. Queen Elizabeth I was also known as the Virgin Queen, because she refused to marry. She played the role of an epic politician, always “entertaining” the idea, but in her heart she knew any husband she had would immediately take away her power. During her rule, literacy increased and the arts flourished. Elizabeth encouraged great writers like William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Walter Raleigh. She also fended off major threats from France and Spain and helped solidify England’s status as a major naval power. And in a time of major religious dogmatism and upheaval, Elizabeth encouraged a moderate attitude that helped reduce religious persecutions.

“Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.” – Queen Elizabeth I

6. Murasaki Shikibu

Hiroshige III

Have you ever heard of The Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel? Well, she wrote it! Murasaki filled her novel with passionate, interesting, and complex female characters, a concept way ahead of her time (and frankly sometimes a little head of her time). Her work also meditated on what it means to be human, in the way that novels do so well. As one of the few feminists of her time, Murasaki put into words some VERY inspiring insights that still ring true today.

“One ought not to be unkind to a woman merely on account of her plainness, any more than one had a right to take liberties with her merely because she was handsome.” – Murasaki Shikibu

7. Ada Lovelace

Alfred Edward Chalon

Ada Lovelace was born into scandal. Her wealthy, smart, and practical mother had just left her famous father, the poet Lord Byron, and the circumstances have long been the subject of gossip and rumor. Ada grew up a wealthy society woman, but she was fascinated by science, mathematics, and logic. Although Ada did go along with certain societal requirements, such as marrying a wealthy Earl, she continued her intellectual pursuits. She helped her friend and fellow mathematician Charles Babbage develop the first computing machine, considered one of the first computers. Ada expanded the work and ended up writing the first computer program, which she wrote for Babbage’s machine.

“That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal, as time will show.” – Ada Lovelace

And she was right, it was pure magic! ✨

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