Every student has a limited time in school to learn about many things. In the same breath, textbook writers handpick what they think is necessary for people to learn and leave out those they believe aren’t. As such, there is a possibility there are some things we didn’t study because some stakeholders thought they weren’t necessary, but, from hindsight, they were. In this article, we highlight 9 important historical figures that, for some reason, weren’t taught in school.

1. Cassius Clay

When the name Cassius Clay is mentioned, you will likely think of the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali (it was his name before he changed it). While you will not be technically wrong for having that perception, you (probably) will be surprised that the great boxer was named after a slave abolitionist called Cassius Marcellus Clay, who lived from 1810 to 1903.

In America’s fight against slavery and equal rights, the original Cassius Clay doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. As the son of a wealthy plantation owner, Cassius Clay freed all slaves who worked for his family. He also introduced an anti-slavery newspaper when nobody wanted to hear about such stories.

Cassius Clay faced a lot of opposition and was often attacked, and his print shop was destroyed. This fight earned him a seat in the Kentucky legislature, where he went on to fight more against the oppression of the African American community. He even influenced Abraham Lincoln to fight against oppression and slavery.

2. Mary Edwards Walker

So far, Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman to have been awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor. Interestingly, she was not a soldier, and neither was she in the Special Forces – she was a surgeon. During the American Civil War, Mary Walker enrolled to offer her services, becoming the first female army surgeon. Being the brave surgeon that she was, Mary Walker crossed enemy lines and was caught by the Confederate army. She was imprisoned in 1864 for spying.

While in prison, Mary Walker asked for men’s clothing because they were more comfortable. When the war ended, she was awarded this prestigious medal, after which she fiercely fought for women’s rights. Three years before her death, congress tried to revoke her medal of honor, but Mary didn’t give it up. This probably explains why very little is known about her.

3. Henrietta Lacks

The name Henrietta Lacks may only ring a bell if you are in a medical profession. Other than that, very few people know about her enormous contribution to science. While Henrietta Lacks wasn’t a medic herself, she made her contributions as a patient.

When she visited the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951 to treat cervical cancer, the doctors at the facility took her cells for research. From the samples, the physicians observed that the cells did not die in the lab. The doctors had found the first immortal cells, which they named after Lacks’ initials “HeLa.”

After Henrietta Lacks passed on, her cells were used to make significant accomplishments in medicine, including the creation of the polio vaccine. They were also used in both in vitro fertilization and cloning research.

4. Maurice Hilleman

Another forgotten hero in the medical world is Dr. Maurice Hillman. Born in 1919 on a Montana farm, Maurice grew up poor and disadvantaged. However, this didn’t stop him from rising to become the father of vaccines. While actively practicing, he developed more than 40 vaccines for different conditions, including hepatitis B, chickenpox, rubella, mumps, and measles.

When the influenza pandemic hit the world in 1957, it was Dr. Maurice Hillman who developed a vaccine in only 4 months. Considering Maurice’s impact on vaccination, it’s a mystery how his name remains unknown to most people.

5. Madam C.J Walker

Born a freed slave in a Louisiana cotton plantation, Madam C.J Walker grew to become the first self-made female millionaire in the United States. Since she was the first generation of formerly enslaved people in her family, C.J. Walker worked in the washtub and kitchen before starting a hair preparation and manufacturing business.

By the early 1900s, the 1867-born woman’s company was thriving, turning her into the first self-made female millionaire. Most of her money went into advocating for Black rights and paying for education scholarships to those in need.

6. Lewis Latimer

It’s strange that Lewis’s name is often omitted in physics, yet he worked with two prominent physicians: Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. He was an African American engineer and inventor who worked hard to improve some of the major inventions.

For instance, after picking up on Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb, he sought to improve it by developing the carbon filament, thereby increasing its lifespan. Lewis Latimer also helped Alexander Graham Bell secure a patent for the telephone by creating technical drawings of the invention.

7. Edith Wilson

Wife to President Woodrow Wilson, Edith Wilson might have been the first female president in U.S. history. Like many countries, the United States has officially never had a female president. However, when President Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, his wife became his representative in the Oval Office. According to Edith Wilson, her role was more of a stewardship and not as a head of state. Many political analysts have argued that Edith was indeed in charge of the country, making critical decisions until her husband completed the second term in March 1921.

8. Claudette Colvin

Everyone knows about Rosa Parks, the African American woman who refused to give up her seat and sparked the civil rights movement. However, Claudette Colvin was actually the first African American woman to refuse to give up her seat on the bus. She was handcuffed and arrested by two police officers.

According to Claudette Colvin, she was not the perfect fit for leading the civil rights movement, but Rosa Parks was. She narrates that she was only 15 and already pregnant at that moment. Therefore, the civil rights leaders wanted someone more reliable and could fit the profile. This is why very little is known about her and her efforts during this difficult period.

Categorized in:

General Knowledge, History,

Last Update: June 13, 2024