Which of These Things Was Invented by a Woman?

Why don't we know more about the brilliant women of history? Sam Maggs's new book, "Wonder Women," aims to change that.

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The Physician Who Could

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Who She Is: Anandibai Joshi

Why You Need to Know Her: "Born in India in 1865—a child bride in a time when many women weren't even allowed to go to school—Anandi crossed an ocean and became the first Indian woman to earn a degree in Western medicine. Anandi was able to achieve her goals in part because she became pen pals and best friends with a young widow in New Jersey named Theodicia Carpenter. Women helping women!"

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What You Can Learn From Her: When you're trying to achieve the impossible, you can always phone a friend.

The Woman Who Changed Lunchtime Forever

Who She Is: Margaret Knight

Why You Need to Know Her: "Have you ever stopped to think about who invented the bag that you get your take-out in? The answer is Margaret Knight, a self-taught mechanical engineer who patented the first machine to fold and glue flat-bottomed paper bags. By the time she died in 1914, Margaret was hailed as the "woman Edison" and the most famous woman inventor of the 19th century, with nearly 100 inventions under her belt. Margaret had to sue for her patent after her design was stolen by a man who had seen it and tried to claim it as his own. His main defense was that a woman couldn't possibly have created something so ingenious."

What You Can Learn From Her: Don't let the haters hold you down—and to that end, don't let them take credit for your genius, either.

The Pilot Who Flew Over Obstacles

Who She Is: Bessie Coleman

Why You Need to Know Her: "Born to parents of black and Native American descent in the American South in the 1890s, Bessie was determined to prove to the world that women of color could become successful. Denied entrance to American flight schools because of her race and gender, Bessie taught herself French, moved to France, and earned her pilot's license two years before Amelia Earhart. Once she returned to the United States, Bessie gained fame and fortune performing stunt flying shows for massive crowds—but only if they weren't segregated."

What You Can Learn From Her: In the face of opposition, you can find a way to figuratively, and sometimes literally, soar.

The Civil War Soldier in Disguise

Who She Is: Sarah Emma Edmonds

Why You Need to Know Her: "Isolated on a farm in eastern Canada in the mid-19th century, Emma was inspired by reading a book about a girl who pretended to be a boy so she could be a pirate. Emma ran away from home, cut off her hair, and joined the American Civil War as a soldier named 'Franklin Thomas.' She ended up working as a Union spy undercover in the Confederate ranks—a meta-spy. No one discovered Emma's deception until years after the war, when she wanted the military pension she'd earned. She walked into a reunion of her regiment in full skirts, surprised them all—and received her pension."

What You Can Learn From Her: You don't need to ask permission to join a boys' club.

The Heiress Who Helped Bring About D-Day

Who She Is: Elvira Chaudoir

Why You Need to Know Her: "A bisexual Peruvian heiress partying and gambling her way through France at the start of WWII, Elvira was approached by MI5 (Britain's domestic intelligence agency) to become a double agent against the Germans. When the Nazis eventually recruited her as a spy, Elvira fed them false information that was instrumental in the success of D-Day. Destitute at the end of her life (she wasn't very good at gambling), MI5 sent her a check for $3,000 just months before her death, as another thank-you for Normandy."

What You Can Learn From Her: You can change the world by being a total badass.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History (Quirk Books), $12, powells.com.

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