Heroines Yesterday, Heroines Today, and Heroines Tomorrow

Bessica Raiche (1875-1932) Pioneer Pilot, Aviation Inventor, Dentist, Doctor

Bessica or Bessie Raiche was an American woman who distinguished herself shortly after the turn of the 20th century in terms of versatility.

She was not only a dentist and a doctor, but is also accredited by the Aeronautical Society as being the first woman to fly an airplane in a solo flight.  She had no flight instruction or experience before taking to the sky alone. Bessie was  a woman before her time who loved to shoot guns and drive fast cars right alongside the boys.

Her and her husband built their airplane in their living room and assembled it in the yard. She flew the biplane in 1910. Bessie would live another 22 years, most of which she devoted to women’s health care as a distinguished specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology in the US.

Heroines of Anthropology

Jane Goodall, Born 1934

Jane Goodall’s first experiences in anthropology began next to the very famous anthropologist Louis Leakey. With Leakey’s support, she decided to establish a camp where she could study the behavior of chimpanzees. Thanks to her discoveries in the field of primate social structure, behavior, diet and use of tools and weapons, we understand how early humans may have evolved, and a lot more about these magnificent animals.

Goodall now devotes 300 days per year to advocacy on behalf of chimpanzees and the environment.

Margaret Mead, 1901-1978

Dr. Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist who build upon the work of her predecessors, including Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict and Elsie Clews Parsons. Her research on Polynesian cultures helped jump start America’s sexual revolution and second-wave feminism in the 1960s.

Margaret originally studied English, then psychology, but changed her focus to anthropology after a course at Barnard College during her senior year. She did a lot of field work in Samoa, publishing the famous Coming of Age in Samoa in 1928. She received her Ph.D from Colombia a year later.

The work claimed that girls and boys in the Samoan culture were both taught to and allowed to value their sexuality. It was something of a sensation, and Margaret went on to write about social issues including sex role and race. Notable writings include Growing Up in New Guinea (1930), which she wrote with Reo Fortune, and Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis (1942), which she wrote with Gregory Bateson, who Margaret married in 1936.

Dian Fossey, 1932-1985

Dian Fossey was an American zoologist, primatologist and anthropologist who studied mountain gorilla groups extensively over a period of 18 years. She also worked with Louis Leakey, who she met early in her career. He encouraged her to work with mountain gorillas, and she also established her own camp in one of the last remaining strongholds of mountain gorillas in the wild.

She was able to gain the trust of the gorillas, and learn about the way they communicate, structure their groups and their general habits. Fossey was very brave. She was under constant threat from violent poachers, who killed some of the gorillas she was studying. She sadly died in 1985. Her body was found on December 26 of that year. She is thought to have been killed by poachers, who may have grown tired of her protecting these animals.

Dian’s 1983 book Gorillas in the Mist combines her scientific study of the gorillas at Karisoke Research Center with her own personal story, and was adapted into a film of the same name in 1988.