Custom Class: header-inner

Custom Class: hero-banner-wrapper

Which Three Famous Figures from History would you invite to a Dinner Party?

Sophia Whelan

‘History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.’

Therefore, history is the word of the victors or those with power. Many influential pioneers have been forgotten because others stood in their way. So, when asked ‘Which three famous figures from history would you invite to a dinner party’, your mind leaps to familiar figures like Washington, Luther King Jr, Mandela, Gandhi, Darwin, Einstein. On the surface, history has shown that these men have shaped society. However, if you delve a little deeper into the truth, the unsung heroines emerge. The time has come for these inspiring women to step out of his-story.

The first revolutionary woman is Hypatia of Alexandria (370–415AD), whose ‘use of logic, mathematics, and the exact sciences gave her discipline,’2 which ultimately led to her works on the commentary of Diophantus’ thirteen-volume Arithmetica, commentary of Apllonius’ Astronomical Canon, and the invention of the hydrometer. Despite being a Neoplatonist, her tolerance towards Christian beliefs was radical (see Appendix A). Nevertheless, due to sexism and her sudden murder, ironically by a mob of Christians, her legacy was largely forgotten and ignored for over 1500 years. In the early 20th century, her story was resurrected and seen as an example of injustice, caused by the patriarchy. Hypatia was used as a symbol to inspire women of the suffragette movement to stand up and fight for their rights.

Another prominent figure is Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) who can be regarded as the mother of feminism due to her writings in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Regardless of her beliefs on equal rights, as a woman her work was disregarded by her male Regardless of her beliefs on equal rights, as a woman her work was disregarded by her male contemporaries. Fortunately, one of Wollstonecraft’s pupils, Margret King further publicised her work, after her death. Her ideology can be summarised as ‘I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves’. She promoted education as the pathway to equality despite opposition. History vindicates her ethos, that education is the key to liberating equality.

The last woman is the Dowager Empress Cixi of China (1835–1908), who ‘has been obscured by misogyny and oriental stereotypes’. Her legacy has been attributed to the demise of the Qing dynasty. This claim is unjust and discriminatory. Research has shown the fall of the Qing dynasty occurred despite the Dowager’s efforts. In reality, she established numerous reforms including abolition of: slavery, medieval torture, and the ancient practise of foot-binding, which liberated women of all social classes. The Dowager should be singlehandedly credited with bringing China into the contemporary world. China would not be the superpower it is today without the guiding hand of the Dowager Empress.

These three women have shaped the world in the face of adversity. They overcame barriers and set a precedent for other women around them. Regardless of fact, their legacies were tainted by dominant men. Hypatia inspires women to be determined. Mary Wollstonecraft inspires women to have opinions. Dowager Empress Cixi inspires women to be progressive. Their positive and impressive changes to modern society, will make them fascinating dinner party guests.

Read more about the Immerse Education Summer School