The First to Discover the Sex Chromosomes

When women rarely went to high school, Nettie Maria Stevens (1861-1912) wanted to be a research scientist. We don’t know a lot about her personal life, but she became a biologist. And though she received little credit for it during her lifetime, she was the first to discover the sex chromosomes.

Photograph of Nettie Stevens the first to discover the sex chromosomes

The Incubator (courtesy of Carnegie Institution of Washington) / Public domain

Before the 1900s, the link between Mendel’s genetic rules and gender were unclear. Scientists didn’t know what factors determined the sex of an offspring. Some believed external factors such as temperature and nutrition influenced gender. Very few thought chromosomal factors were responsible for the gender of offspring.

Early Life

Born on July 7th, 1861 in Cavendish, Vermont to Julia and Ephraim Stevens. Records of her early life are sketchy. We know her mother died relatively early in Stevens’s life but don’t know what caused her death. 

Her father, a carpenter, remarried and the family moved to Westford, Massachusetts. He earned enough to send both of his daughters to high school, though it was uncommon to educate women. Stevens graduated from Westford Academy in 1880. She and her sister, Emma, were two of three women to graduate from her high school.

Teacher, Librarian, and Student

Stevens wanted to become a scientist but needed to earn money for her higher education. She became a teacher and a librarian.

She taught courses in physiology and zoology, mathematics, Latin, and English.

After teaching for three terms, she continued her education at Westfield Normal School (now Westfield State University) completing the four-year course in only two years and being graduated with the highest scores in her class.

She enrolled in the one-year-old Stanford University in 1896. By 1899 she’d earned her B.A. and graduated with an M.A. in biology in 1900.

For a year, she did graduate work under Oliver Peebles Jenkins and his former student and assistant professor, Frank Mace MacFarland. During this time, her work in physiology focused more and more on histology.

She earned her PhD from Bryn Mawr College in 1903.

And in 1904 she received a fellowship from the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Discovering the Sex Chromosomes

She wrote and published a research paper in 1905. “Studies in Spermatogenesis with Especial Reference to the ‘Accessory Chromosome’” was one of the 20th century’s major scientific breakthroughs. 

Stevens studied insects and discovered the sperm cells would differ by one chromosome. Some sperm cells carried a large chromosome while others carried a smaller one. She noticed that unfertilized eggs did not have this difference and concluded that the smaller chromosome was responsible for sex determination.

Today we know these two chromosomes as X and Y.


Most scientists of the time did not embrace Stevens’s findings.

Edmund Wilson, another researcher, independently made a similar discovery. Because of his higher reputation (and in my opinion, his gender), he received credit for her discovery when his own discoveries and papers were not as strong or as accurate.

She remained uncredited for her discovery until scientific research and society grew to acknowledge and search for accomplishments by women.


At 50 years old, Stevens had published more than 38 papers in cytology and experimental physiology. Finally, she was offered her dream job, a research professor at Bryn Mawr College, but was too ill to accept the position. 

She died of breast cancer on May 4, 1912. They buried Stevens in the Westford, Massachusetts cemetery beside her father and her sister.

They buried Stevens in the Westford, Massachusetts cemetery beside her father and her sister.


The National Women’s Hall of Fame inducted Stevens into the Hall in 1994.

Google displayed a doodle showing Stevens peering through a microscope at XY chromosomes on July 7, 2016, her 155th birthday.

Westfield State University opened the Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center on May 5, 2017.

The state-of-the-art building houses the university’s “STEM-related degree programs.” (Nursing and Allied Health, Chemical and Physical Sciences, Biology, Environmental Science and the master’s degree program in Physician Assistant Studies.)

It takes a special kind of strength to lead a life outside of society’s norms. This post is part of an ongoing series that celebrates women who are role models, leaders, and strong women.

Nettie Stevens was the first to discover the sex chromosomes and realize that one of them determined gender. Her discovery opened the doors of science and led to things like the identification of hereditary diseases, understanding human and animal development, and even the onset of forensic science. Tip of the hat to Dr. Nettie Stevens.

Revolutionary War Hero Margaret Corbin

It’s July and fitting that this month’s history posts be about Margaret Cochran Corbin, born November 12, 1751 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. A U.S. Revolutionary War Hero Margaret Corbin was the first woman paid a soldier’s pension by the Continental Congress.

Public Domain image of engraving of Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth, a revolutionary war hero margaret corbin

Early Life

Born to Robert Cochran, an Irish immigrant, and his wife Sarah, Margaret was orphaned at the age of five. While she and her brother were away from home, Native Americans raided her home. Her father died, and they kidnapped her mother. Her mother’s brother adopted her and her brother.


Twenty-one-year-old Margaret married John Corbin from Virginia in 1772. Presumably they moved to Pennsylvania.

The Revolutionary War

Her husband joined the Pennsylvania Artillery in 1775 or 1776.  A matross, an artilleryman, John served on a cannon crew.

Margaret, like many other wives at the time, became a camp follower. Camp followers cooked, cleaned and repaired clothes for the soldiers to earn money. They also cared for the sick and wounded. And camp followers brought the soldiers water to drink and to cool the cannons. The soldiers called these women, Molly Pitcher.

John manned one of two cannons at Fort Washington on November 16, 1776, when George Washington retreated with the Continental Army to White Plains, New York. John and about 600 other soldiers remained to defend the fort against the Hessians (German soldiers hired by the British to help the war effort). During the battle, John was killed.

Margaret Turns Soldier

After the enemy killed her husband, Margaret took over his role at the cannon. If she had not, the cannon crew could not have continued to fight.

Other soldiers commented on “Captain Molly’s” steady aim and sure-shot.

During the battle, Margaret took enemy fire. It severely injured her left jaw and breast and nearly severed her left arm at her shoulder.

The commander of Fort Washington surrendered to the British. Margaret and the surviving soldiers became prisoners of war. Because of her injuries, they released her on parole a few days later.

After the Battle of Fort Washington

After her parole, Margaret went to the Corps of Invalids at West Point, NY. She never fully recovered from her injuries. Her left arm remained useless for the rest of her life. 

On June 29, 1779, the State of Pennsylvania granted her $30 to help her and passed her case on to the Continental Congress’s Board of War.

The Board of War approved a continuing allowance for her. It equaled half the amount her male counterparts received. They also gave her clothing to replace the ones damaged when she’d been injured.

The Board’s decision made her the first woman to receive a pension from the United States. It also put her on military rolls until the end of the war.

She joined the Invalid Regiment at West Point in 1777. She helped care for the wounded.

In 1782, Corbin married a wounded soldier, but he died a year later.

She was formally discharged from service in 1783. The story of the rest of her life is unknown.


She died in Highland Falls, New York, on January 16, 1800, at 48.

Honoring Margaret Corbin

Memorial erected by DAR honoring US Revolutionary War Hero Margaret Corbin

In 1925 the New York State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and other local historians, began extensive research to locate and identify Margaret Corbin’s burial site.

A year later, they found her burial site. On March 16, 1926, they exhumed Margaret Corbin’s body. They re-interred her body at West Point Cemetery with full military honors. DAR donated a monument to honor her.

Every May since 1926, DAR honors Margaret Corbin with Margaret Corbin Day, which includes ceremonial wreath-laying at her Monument at West Point Cemetery.

A Surprising Discovery

In October 2016, West Point Cemetery extension project Included placement of a retaining wall near Margaret’s grave. The digging disturbed Margaret’s grave. They recovered Margaret’s body to determine if the digging had damaged it.

Forensic analysis of the body determined it belonged to a male, not Margaret.

Legacy of a Revolutionary War Hero

Though little more has been found out about Margaret Corbin’s life and death and her grave remains undiscovered, the DAR and the Army continue to honor Margaret’s sacrifice.

In 1976, women joined the Corps of Cadets, establishing the first class of women at the United States Military Academy in West Point. That same year,  the Margaret Corbin Forum was created. The Forum’s purpose is to educate the Corps on women’s roles in the military and to resolve issues integrating women into the Academy.

Each year since, the DAR presents the Margaret Cochran Corbin Award to a distinguished woman in military service.

In May 2018, DAR held a rededication ceremony honoring Margaret Corbin for her service and legacy. The DAR continues to search for her grave and documentation of the life of our Revolutionary War Hero, Margaret Corbin.

First Woman of Color Elected to Congress

Women of History are strong women who have marched before us. Patsy Takemoto Mink is one such woman. A political pioneer, Mink was the first woman of color elected to Congress. She was an ardent advocate for marginalized groups. She fought for equity, education, environmental causes, and social justice. 

First woman of color elected to Congress, Pasty Takemoto Mink

Early Life

Patsy Takemoto was born on Dec. 6, 1927, in Paia, Hawaii. As a young girl, she first noticed the inequality between people who owned Maui’s plantations and the workers. the haole or white people owned the plantations. The workers were Filipino and Japanese. Inequality and injustice came up close and personal after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her father was detained questioned simply because of his Japanese heritage. She’s been quoted as saying the experience made her realize “that one could not take citizenship and the promise of the U.S. Constitution for granted.”

Education and her First First

A junior at Maui High School, Mink became the first female class president. She graduated Valedictorian of the class of 1944.

She started pre-med at the University of Hawaii. When WWII ended and travel bans to the U.S. Mainland were lifted, she transferred to Wilson College in Pennsylvania. But Wilson didn’t have all the courses she needed. So she transferred to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. And there she, a woman of color, faced discrimination first hand. 

Then Mink developed a thyroid condition that required surgery. She went back to Hawaii.

In 1948 she graduated from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and chemistry. And every medical school she applied to rejected her.

Still wanting to find a place of service to people, she was admitted to the University of Chicago Law School in 1948.


She met John Mink, a geology student at Chicago U, playing the card game bridge at the International House. They married on January 27, 1951, in the campus chapel. She graduated from law school that year but continued to work in the law library at the university.

Their daughter Gwendolyn Rachel Matsu Mink, was born on March 6, 1952. The family moved to Honolulu six months later.

A New Direction

While in Hawaii, Mink passed the bar exam. She was the first female Japanese-American to pass the bar, but no one would hire her. One source says it was because she was in a biracial marriage.

So Mink became a private-practice attorney. She was the first woman of Japanese ancestry to practice law in Hawaii. She worked in private practice from 1953 to 1964. Then one day, a friend invited her to a meeting about reforming Hawaii’s Democratic Party. That meeting changed her life.

Political Career

She organized the Oahu Young Democrats in 1954. She served as the national vice-president for the organization. And then on November 7, 1956, she won a seat to the House of Representatives for the Territory of Hawaii. She became the first woman of color elected to Congress,

Patsy T. Mink Papers at the Library of Congress, Public Domain

Then, in 1959, she was elected to the territorial Senate. March 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state and she no longer had a job.

In 1962, Mink was elected to the Hawaii state Senate. She held that seat until 1964. She was elected to the newly-formed second seat to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964. She held that seat until 1977.

She ran as an anti-Viet Nam war presidential candidate in the Oregon primary in 1972. But she lost to Sen. George McGovern.

She co-authored a bill in 1972. Title IX mandated equal funding for women’s academic and athletic programs in institutions receiving federal money.

In 1973 Mink asked Congress to begin the impeachment process of President Nixon. She wanted the American public to finally know the truth.

She ran for the U.S. Senate in 1976. Defeated by war hero, Masayuki “Spark” Matsunaga, she packed up her D.C. Office in January 1977. President Carter asked her to be the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Environmental Affairs. And she quit after less than a year when she discovered she had very little decision-making power.

Back to Law

Mink resumed her law practice and teaching position at the University of Hawaii. Then in 1983 she won a seat on the Honolulu City Council. She served two terms. She ran unsuccessful campaigns to be Governor of Hawaii in 1986 and Mayor of Honolulu in 1988. 

In 1990, Matsunaga died in office. That prompted a special election. Mink won the seat in the House of Representatives in 1991. 

Women of the 89th Congress
National Archives and Records Administration / Public domain

In 1995 she helped found the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus. Health, immigration, affirmative action, and English only legislation were among the agenda items she supported as chairperson of the caucus.

In February 1997, she introduced a bill that would speed up the naturalization process by eliminating literacy and civics tests for certain categories of legal immigrants. 

She continued working in Congress until her death.

They admitted Patsy Takemoto Mink to Straub Hospital on Aug. 30, 2002, with chickenpox. She died of viral pneumonia on September 28, 2002.

When Mink died, her name was on the ballot and it was too late to remove it. She was posthumously re-elected to Congress by a wide margin.


Patsy Mink persisted. She was a political pioneer, a woman of firsts. And she continually worked to better the lives of marginalized people. 

After her death, Congress recognized Mink for her efforts. They renamed Title IX the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.


Strong women blaze trails for those who follow. Patsy Takemoto Mink was certainly a persistent trailblazer. She was a political pioneer and a woman of firsts. As the first woman of color in Congress, she paved the way for other women. Thank you, Patsy Mink, for your tenacity, your integrity, and your persistence. 

If you liked this post, you can read about other strong women. A doctor a Native American, an astronaut, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner are some of the strong women featured on this blog. If you prefer strong women in fiction, check out my dystopian novel, My Soul to Keep

You Have to Do You

Continuing to celebrate Women’s History month, this week’s subject is an activist. She challenges stereotypes about Muslims, in particular Muslim women. And she not only says, you have to do you, she lives it. She is a Somalian-American, a poet, a rapper, a feminist, and so much more. She is Mona Haydar.

Photo of Mona Haydar in her hjabi, a strong woman who lives by the phrase you just have to do you
By Y3t4r5 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Women our future is winnable 

We gotta be indivisible.

Mona Haydar from  her song “Barbarian”

Early Life & Education

In 1971, her parents immigrated from Damascus, Syria to the United States. She was born in Flint, Michigan, in 1988, one of seven siblings.

She graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint. Then in 2011, Haydar went to Damascus, Syria. She studied Islamic spirituality at Jami’ Abu-Noor. When the Syrian conflict erupted, she returned to the U.S.

In 2012, Haydar lost a close friend to suicide. This made Haydar question how she lived her own life. She left Flint where she had been working as a substitute teacher and moved to the Lama Foundation  in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. 

The Lama Foundation is an off grid, inter-spiritual community and retreat center. There she met her husband. They married and had their first child there.

She also lived in the Redwood forest of Northern California. Then she went to New York City, where she completed her Masters in Christian Ethics at Union Theological Theological Seminary in 2018. 

Developing Her Voice

Haydar started writing poetry as soon as she was old enough to write. According to her website, “I am mood. I am dude. I am Mona.” is from one of her first poems recorded in a kindergarten journal.

At 14, she performed spoken word poetry at open mikes and poetry shows in downtown Flint. She credits African-American women in the Flint hip-hop community who mentored for helping her to develop her sound. They taught her to use her voice to oppose white supremacy and Western culture. Her sound “is deeply rooted in her intersectional identity and sensibilities.” She transitioned to rap in 2015.

You can’t be afraid of breaking out. You just have to do you and people will catch up.

Mona Haydar,

Early Career

Her first flirt with fame happened in 2015. She didn’t understand why people didn’t ask Muslims about their religion. Haydar and her husband, Sebastian, set up a stand in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They invited people to “Talk to a Muslim.” They offered coffee, donuts, and flowers and answers to “replace trauma with love.” Her social media post about that project went viral, and their efforts reached an international audience.

She stood with the indigenous peoples of the U.S. In 2016 at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. She was 6 months pregnant with her second child. That year she also appeared in the 2016 Microsoft holiday campaign “#SpreadHarmony”, shot by Jake Scott. She and her work have appeared in diverse places like Glamour and BBC, and Psychology Today and People Magazine.

Debut Song 

In 2017, Haydar’s debut song went viral.Billboard named “Hjabi (Wrap My Hijab)” one of “The 20 Best Protest Songs of 2017” and one of the “Top 25 Feminist Anthems.” Her debut song dispels myths and stereotypes about women who choose to wear a hjabi. Haydar sees her practice of wearing a hijab as an expression of feminism and independence.

Her Music

Suicide Doors

Haydar doesn’t shy from tough topics in her music. Her single, “Suicide Doors,” opens discussions of mental health. The song is a tribute to the friend she lost to suicide and an expression of her grief. It acknowledges that suicide and mental health issues aren’t just a “white” problem.


When I was sitting in the class, we were studying what it is to be barbaric, a barbarian … and at the same time, I’m studying The New Testament, I’m studying the words of Paul, I’m studying what it is to be ‘other’ inside of the Roman Empire…Doing all that work while the current sitting president was making comments about Mexicans, comments about Muslims, comments about trans people, I felt like if there was ever a moment to speak love into the universe, it was here.”

Mona Haydar from

 in 2018, Mona and her family moved to Marrakech, Morocco.

Strong Women

Mona Haydar is a strong woman. So are real life women: Molly Brant, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, and Dr. Patricia Bath. There are strong fictional women too. Like Miranda and Beryl in My Soul to Keep. Please celebrate women’s history month with me. Leave a comment below about a strong woman you know or know about. Fictional or Real-Life doesn’t matter. It takes all kinds of role-models to help us develop our own version of strong.

You Have to Do You

In the current fear-heavy world of corona virus self-isolation, Hadar’s messages are especially relevant. We can be afraid and be strong women. As she said, “our future is winnable.” Believe that.

Hadar’s music and life exemplifies a strong Muslim woman. She raps about complex issues with respect and love. She is a role model and mentor for us all. You just have to do you.

An Inspiring Woman In Space And On The Ground

From last week’s strong Mohawk woman of the revolutionary war era we’re coming forward hundreds of years. This week’s Women’s History Month spotlight is on an inspiring woman in space and on the ground, Ellen Ochoa. Ms. Ochoa, a Hispanic-American Woman, made history in our lifetime. Engineer, inventor, astronaut, and administrator, she is a champion of and for women.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Director of Johnson Space Center and an inspiring woman
Official portrait of JSC Center Director Ellen Ochoa. Photographer: Bill Stafford
Public Domain

“We do a disservice to society as a whole, if we are not providing the same kinds of encouragement to women to contribute as we do to men.”

– Ellen Ochoa

Early Life

Ochoa’s paternal grandparents immigrated from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona. They later moved to California where Ochoa’s father, Joseph, was born. Ellen Ochoa was born May 10, 1958 in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Her parents were Joseph and Rosanne (née Deardorf) Ochoa.

She loved math and science in school, even if other kids looked down on her for that. She played the flute and wanted to be a musician.

Like many of us, she watched the moon landing. She was eleven. It never occurred to her to want to be an astronaut. There were no female astronauts then.

Astronaut descending ladder for Apollo 11 moon landing
Photo credit: NASA


Ochoa’s parents divorced while she attended  Grossmont High School in El Cajon. She graduated from San Diego State University, Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1980. She earned a master’s degree in science in 1981 at  Stanford Department of Electrical Engineering. And in 1985, she achieved her doctorate at Stanford.

“I know myself how important it is to see somebody else doing that someone that maybe you have something in common with or can relate to in some way.”

Ellen Ochoa


Ochoa was 25 when she saw NASA’s first female astronaut in space, Sally Ride. Ms. Ride was an engineer. And she’d studied at Stanford. Ochoa decided she wanted to be an astronaut, too. They rejected her first application. So she got another job and kept working toward her goal.

Inherently, women and men are of equal worth, have equal amounts to contribute and we absolutely need to make sure that we are getting those contributions from women.

Ellen Ochoa


Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at Ames Research Center At Ames, she led a research group. They worked on optical systems for automated space exploration. She patented an optical system to detect defects in a repeating pattern. And she is a co-inventor on three additional patents.

First Hispanic Woman In Space

Image of Astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa, an inspiring woman

Selected by NASA in January 1991, Ochoa became an astronaut in July of that year. She served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993 and became the first Hispanic woman in space.

Astronaut Ochoa playing the flute in space

A mission specialist on STS-56 (1993), she was also a payload commander on STS-66. Then she was a mission specialist and flight engineer on STS-96 and STS-110 in 2002.

A member of the Presidential Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History, Ochoa carried a special item on STS-96. Above, mission specialists (l.-r.) Ellen Ochoa, Julie Payette and Tamara Jernigan float together in the International Space Station with the gold, white and purple suffrage banner from the National Woman’s Party. This actual banner was used early in the century (around 1916-1920) as women fought for the right to vote. 

Ochoa logged more than 950 hours in space. And if that’s not an inspiring woman…

Another First

Ochoa retired from spacecraft operations and became Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center. On January 1, 2013, Ochoa became the first Hispanic and second female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Awards and Recognitions

Ochoa has won many awards. She’s received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, the Outstanding Leadership Medal, and four Space Flight Medals.

Ochoa’s Advice

“You don’t have to wait until you’re older to make an impact on other people’s lives.” Ellen Ochoa

“If you are interested in something, you still need to learn other things,” she said. “Try hard if you want to do it.”

Ochoa to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps

More About Ochoa

Ochoa retired from federal service as Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2018. She became vice chair of the National Science Board, which runs the National Science Foundation.  

Besides being an astronaut, researcher, and engineer, Ochoa is a classical flutist.

She lives in Texas with her husband, Coe Fulmer Miles, and their two children. 


I hope you enjoyed this brief look at an inspiring woman in space and on the ground, Dr. Ellen Ochoa. You might want to read about 30 other inspiring women or a spy who may not have been one. Or sign up for my newsletter for information on my next novel featuring strong women characters.