March 8 is International Women’s Day, which originated during protests in the United States and Europe to honor and fight for political rights for working women. The first observance was on February 28, 1909 in New York. The following year, the International Women’s Conference suggested March 8 as “International Women’s Day,” which even became a national holiday in Soviet Russia in 1917 after women gained suffrage. Though mostly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day during the International Women’s Year in 1975. This year’s theme is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”.
Charlotte Elizabeth Whitton OC CBE (March 8, 1896 – January 25, 1975) was a Canadian feminist and the first female mayor of a major city in Canada as mayor of Ottawa, serving from 1951 to 1956 and again from 1960 to 1964. She attended Queen’s University, becoming the first female editor of the Journal, the student newspaper. Whitton received many honorary degrees, including one from Smith College in 1955.
In 1920, Whitton became secretary of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare, serving as executive director from 1926 to 1941, advocating for improved and standardized child welfare legislation. Although Whitton advocated for women’s rights and improving social conditions for mothers and children, she advocated for eugenics, believing that immorality and criminality were genetic. She opposed immigrants considered “undesirable” and “feeble-minded” and those of “Oriental, Armenian, Jewish, or Central European, or lower-class British heritage.” Whitton also believed that juvenile immigrants were “physically, morally, and socially degenerate.” After resigning from the Canadian Council on Child Welfare in 1941, Whitton worked as a freelance writer and lecturer on social welfare.
Whitton never married and lived with her companion Margaret Grier, whom she met at Queen’s University for thirty-two years, until Grier died in 1947.
Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling OBE PhD MSc CEng (8 March 1909 – 18 November 1990) was a British aeronautical engineer and motorcycle racer. Shilling received her Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, one of two female graduates in 1932 from the University of Manchester. University records list her as “Mr.” Beatrice Shilling because the entry form did not include any space for women. She received a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree by the end of 1933. Three years later, she joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and became the leading specialist in aircraft carburetors.
During the early years of the Second World War, Royal Air Force pilots discovered that the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines powering their Spitfires and Hurricane would stall, allowing enemy planes to escape. Shilling solved the problem by inventing the RAE restrictor, what became known as “Miss Shilling’s orifice”, a small, washer-like metal disc that restricted fuel flow to the carburetor helping prevent engine stall. The initial design drastically reduced engine stalling. Shilling received an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her war efforts.
In addition to her work on engines, Shilling raced motorcycles, breaking into another male-dominated field. She received the Gold Star for lapping the track at over 106 mph, faster than any other woman on two wheels.
Sylvia Margaret Young Wiegand (born March 8, 1945) is an American mathematician, who comes from a family of mathematicians. Her paternal grandparents Grace Chisholm Young (1868-1944) and William Henry Young (1863-1942) were mathematicians, her father, Laurence Chisholm Young (1905-2000), was the Distinguished Research Professor in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, and her aunt Cecily Young Tanner (1900-1992), wrote a Ph.D. thesis in mathematics at Cambridge University and taught at Imperial College, University of London. Young’s grandmother Grace was the first woman to earn a doctorate in Germany.
Sylvia Young was born in Cape Town, South Africa, while her father was Head of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Cape Town. The family moved to Wisconsin a few years later when her father transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where Young also later took math courses. Young attended Bryn Mawr College and graduated in three years, and went on to complete a master’s degree at the University Washington in one year.
She and her husband Roger Wiegand worked in commutative algebra and were eventually hired at the math department at the University of Nebraska. Sylvia was initially an instructor, and became a full professor in 1987, the only female professor in the department at the time.
Wiegand advocates for women in mathematics at the University of Nebraska, including establishing a fellowship o honor her grandparents to support graduate research. In 1996, the math department began an annual summer mathematics camp for high school girls called All Girls/All Math, and in 1998, began the annual Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics. During that time, Wiegand became President of the Association for Women in Mathematics, promoting math and science issues on Capitol Hill and increased funding for math and science education and research. She is also a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
In addition to her mathematical career, Wiegand is a competitive runner, including the 100 mile Leadville ultramarathon which she finished in 29 hours, 35 minutes in 1994.