Some people that have done revolutionary things have just about gone under the radar. Instead of talking about the obvious (politics) this holiday break, maybe tell your family some cool facts about some cool dudes, just to give yourself a little relief.
You can thank him for relieving you of your brother for a couple weekends every month. Powell wrote the book that would lead to the founding of the Boy Scouts of America. From leading the first group of Boy Scouts in 1907, to helping found Girl Scouts in 1910, Powell was a profoundly influential force in teaching kids all about surviving in the wilderness, leadership, and cooperation. Powell wanted to give boys a sense of purpose, and promote well-rounded education.
In the Big Ten Games of 1935, Owens competed in 42 events, winning them all. The 1936 Olympics were held during the Nazi regime and used as a showcase for the Aryan race. The U.S. competed with this by bringing African American players, who won gold across the board. The U.S. won 11 gold medals, and over half of them were black athletes. Owens earned four gold medals, and broke two Olympic records along the way. His record for the world broad jump would last 25 years.
At just 10 years old, Samantha Smith wrote Yury Andropov, asking him how the U.S. and Russia could avoid nuclear war. She was invited to visit Russia through a letter from Andropov himself, and visited with her family for a week. Smith would go on to give international speeches in Japan and appear on television to interview political leaders. Smith was an important voice in the Cold War, not just for children, but globally. Her name is still well-known in Russia, and in her home state of Maine today.
If you like long walks through the woods to clear your mind, you can thank John Muir for pioneering their protection. He founded the Sierra Club, one of the first large-scale organizations for environmental preservation, and was one of the first people to speak for the environment. In 1901, Muir published Our National Parks, particularly loved by President Theodore Roosevelt, who founded a number of conservation programs in response.
Thorpe was another important voice in the Olympics, setting records in the pentathlon and decathlon that would stand for decades. He was the first Native American to win a gold medal for the United States. When it was discovered he played semi-professional baseball twice, his medals were stripped and his name was removed from records, as he was breaking Olympic rules by receiving money at these events. He went on to play baseball and football professionally, and was regarded as one of the greatest male athletes of his time. His medals were restored after his death.
Hamilton wrote the code for the moon landing and pioneered software engineering in a time where nobody taught the material. NASA became more and more dependent on Hamilton and her colleagues as the importance of her software became apparent. She attempted to protect astronauts from common errors, though NASA denied her, which led to Jim Lovell erasing his navigation home in Apollo 8. Hamilton got Lovell home, and would continue to ensure astronaut safety throughout her career. And while you thank many astronauts for risking their lives, don’t forget to thank the woman who got them there safely.
Masih was born indebted to a Pakistani carpet company, working 14–hour days, 6 days a week. Once he escaped, he made global speeches against child and debt slavery and for education availability. He snuck into companies and asked child laborers about their working conditions, sharing their stories and encouraging them to escape. He attended school in hopes of becoming a lawyer and fighting for children’s rights. In 1995, at 13 years old, he was killed by Pakistani companies that benefited from slave labor.
The first female Fortune 500 CEO, Graham was head of The Washington Post during a crucial time in U.S. history. She covered the Watergate scandal while maintaining the Post’s reputation and improving upon the idea of journalist integrity. Under her lead, The Washington Post became one of the top newspapers in the world and a trusted resource for U.S. and world leaders. Graham would increase the income of her business tremendously, and become one of the most powerful women in the publishing world. She was a spokesperson and role-model for women in male-dominated roles, and what’s not to like about that?
Abraham Flexner wrote several papers on education reform. He was one of the first to realize how frequently students were lectured to, and surveyed over 150 medical colleges on their education systems, eventually causing a ripple effect that lead to more hands-on studies for future doctors and surgeons. Colleges harshly reviewed by Flexner either closed or aggressively reformatted their curriculum. He raised funds for medical colleges and was one of the first voices to criticize the education system, a fight that’s still happening today.
You know Watson and Crick, but like many jobs at the time, you don’t know any women involved in the discovery of DNA. Franklin was highly skilled at X-ray diffraction (finding the atomic and molecular structure of an structure), and after 100 hours of exposure in a machine refined by herself, discovered specifics in the structure of DNA that would be crucial in later research. However, this information was taken by her partner without her permission, given to James Watson, and eventually published without crediting her. She never complained, so I’ll complain for her.
So when your red, white and blue Uncle starts the “Trump is making America great again” argument, remind him who really did.