Harriet Beecher Stowe

“Never  give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

Today is known as Juneteenth, a federal holiday which commemorates the official end of slavery in the US.  

The history of slavery in North America has blurred edges, with accounts of enslaved Africans being brought to this continent as early as 1526. However, the first written account of the exchange of people for goods is documented in Virginia in 1619, so that year is often cited as the beginning of slavery. This egregious condition persisted for several centuries.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is often cited as the most influential publication that garnered support of the abolitionist movement and became the catalyst for social change that ultimately led to Civil War. After the war, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. This declared freedom for the 3 million people who were enslaved in this country, and slavery was officially over. Not everyone complied, however, and it was two and a half years later that the final slaves in Texas were officially set free by Union soldiers on June 19, 1865. Currently, around one hundred and fifty years later, we are still feeling the effects of this horrific institution that have been engrained into our laws and social norms.

There are many historic moments where we pause and reflect on the effect of a specific action that defined slavery in the US throughout the years. Uncle Tom’s Cabin could be considered the left-side bookend that defined the era of monumental shift in social consciousness that led to the deconstruction of slavery as a legal institution. The right-side bookend, then, is June 19, 1865 when the final slaves were freed and America emerged as a nation dedicated to continued pursuit of equal rights and justice.

Harriet Beecher was born in 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut to a busy household of multiple children and Puritanical parents. She was brought up with strong Christian beliefs, but also was encouraged to pursue intellectual and literary interests. The family relocated in 1832 when her father became president of the Lane Theological Seminary. They moved to Cincinnati, a bustling port city on the Ohio river where, just to the south in the state of Kentucky, slavery was rampant. She befriended a Reverand who was helping slaves escape to freedom and heard his stories and met the people. She had the opportunity to visit a slave-run homestead in Kentucky and felt the tragic pain of being unable to control the destination of your family members. Her aunt had married a slave trader but was unprepared for the shocking conditions that she would witness and returned a year later to recount her stories. All these incidents had a profound effect on young Harriet, but perhaps the most influential was the murder of her father’s dear friend for publishing an article against slavery.

She was married to Calvin Stowe, a faculty member of the seminary, and they were living in Maine when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850. This required that “Persons escaping from the Service of their Masters” be returned to their owners and that all free states must comply, using police force if necessary. A similar but less enforceable fugitive law had been passed in 1793, but the northern states often disregarded that law and the number of escapees was on the rise. Harriet Beecher Stowe felt the fire rise within her and knew it was time become a larger voice for the abolitionist movement. She connected with her God, and described an immersion-like state that resulted in the story she wrote down as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The story revolves around a slave, Tom, who is sold multiple times and endures physical and mental brutality by his captors. He maintains his Christian beliefs through his travails and is portrayed as a Christ-like figure who forgives his captors and embraces his destiny.

First published as a series of articles in 1851, and finishing in 1852, the series was compiled into a book which immediately flourished and became the “second best-selling book of the 19th century, following the Bible.” (Wikipedia). It had a huge emotional impact in the country and abroad and brought to the forefront the evils of slavery. Even though it is based on accounts of interviews, witnessed events and documents, Harriet Beecher Stowe always maintained that it was the hand of God who wrote the book.

This WAVE Woman had Ambition to devote herself to a life of rectifying the enormous injustice of slavery, at a time when the tide was moving strongly against her. She had Virtue to know the correct moral path to take, even in defiance of others in power. She understood the Empowerment given to her by God to voice her cause so others may know the truth. She is a true WAVE and inspiration to anyone who sees an injustice and wants to make a difference.

Sandra Day O’Connor

“Our purpose in life is to help others along the way.”

Sandra Day was born in 1930 and grew up on a remote cattle ranch in Arizona. For the first years of her life, her home had no running water or electricity! She grew up herding cattle and learned how to use a shotgun. She had a passion for reading. Her parents realized that educational opportunities were limited from their home, so she was sent to live with her grandmother in El Paso where she attended school.

She graduated high school at age 16 and was accepted into Stanford, where graduated at the top of her class with a Batchelor degree in economics. She entered Stanford Law School in 1952. She served on the Law Review, where she worked under future Supreme Court justice Wiliam Rehnquist. He moved on to a law career in Washington DC. Sandra Day, on the other hand, having graduated in the top 10% of her class, in 2 years instead of the usual 3, could not find a job as an attorney because of her gender. She was offered a job as a legal secretary but decided to volunteer as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo, California. This ultimately resulted in a small salary.

Sandra Day married John Jay O’Connor after graduation from law school. They settled in Arizona and raised three boys. O’Connor began her political career here, serving as assistant Attorney General, followed by a seat in the Arizona Senate.

Ronal Reagan nominated O’Connor to the Supreme Court in 1981, and when she was appointed, she became the FIRST WOMAN to achieve this outstanding accomplishment.  She served from 1981-2006, when she stepped down to spend time with her family.

During retirement, she realized an opportunity to teach young Americans about government and how they can participate. She created the iCivics interactive program in 2009 which engages 9 million middle school children every year.

She passed on December 1, 2023 at age 93. She was known for her clear thinking, endless energy, work ethic, and ability to balance family and career. One of her more notable attributes was the open respect that she showed to all individuals, even her dissenters. She would engage her colleagues on the Supreme Court to gather for lunch after their discussions.

The remarkable Woman was Ambitious in her pursuit of knowledge. When faced with challenges, she persevered and molded the situation into something more equitable. She lived a life of Virtue, and valued the Empowering opportunities when they arose. She is an inspiration for everyone. Her contributions will endure.

Text and photo credit of Wikipedia.org

Sandra Day O’Connor being sworn into Supreme Court by Chief Justice Warren Burger as her husband John look on.

Cecilia Payne

“Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are”

              from a poem by Jane Taylor

This remarkable WAVE was born in England in 1900 and always knew she wanted to be a scientist. She entered Cambridge University, and chanced to hear a lecture by an astronomer named Arthur Eddington who spoke on Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. She was exhilarated at the transformation of her view of the universe and decided to study astrophysics. Because of limited opportunities for her at Cambridge, she went to the United States to study at Harvard at age 23.

Her studies led her to study the spectrum of light that is emitted by stars as the light passes through prisms that are attached to telescopes. Each element gives off a particular pattern of different wavelengths, almost like a fingerprint. Payne was able to show that variation in patterns of stars was due largely to the temperature, and not to variations in composition. Her work showed that most stars, like our sun, are composed largely of hydrogen and helium, the lighter elements. Prior to this, most scientists assumed that stars were made of heavier elements. She presented her findings in her thesis in 1925. Her work resulted in the first doctoral degree awarded by Harvard Observatory. It was considered a landmark paper, but because of her gender, she could only carry the title of “technical assistant.” It wasn’t until 1956 that she was made a full professor and chair of the astronomy department at Harvard.

I became aware of Cecelia Payne while attending a recent online public lecture given by Dr. Allison Strom, an assistant professor of Astrology at Northwestern University. She is a delightful and enthusiastic astronomer that studies the evolution of galaxies and the lifespan of stars. She heads a team of gifted scientists that interpret some of the data transmitted from the James Webb Telescope to try to understand how galaxies form, how stars are born and how they ultimately expire. Strom and her team acknowledge that many of the techniques they use were developed by Cecelia Payne, and she is their inspiration.

The achievements of ambitious and brilliant women are often underrated, but they persist because they are fueled by a passion for knowledge. Payne sought empowerment through an institution that would publish her research, and tolerated the lack of professor status. Because she was offered this opportunity and embraced it, we all benefit. As Cecelia Payne said,

“Your reward will be the widening of the horizon as you climb.

 And if you achieve that reward you will ask no other.”


W.A.V.E. stands for Women of AmbitionVirtue, and Empowerment. The more I find out about the incredible contributions women have made to our knowledge base and social advancement, the more amazed I am at how they persevered in their focus to achieve their vision. And there are so many examples!

Ambition. It’s true that women work twice as hard to be considered half as good. It’s a challenge to keep up with the demands of a career and home. WAVEs have shown that it can be done. They tackle hurdles with determination and grace.

Virtue. What an old-fashioned word! Women of virtue used to be held in high esteem. According to vocabulary.com, Virtue is the “quality of being morally good.” Although it may have had different connotations with regards to social standards at a given time, it never really goes out of style. It means doing the right thing, especially when no one is watching. WAVEs follow their moral compass even when another route might be easier. They do not compromise their ethics.

Empowerment. Women have worked hard for centuries to earn the right to vote, get equal education, have a satisfying career, be treated fairly, and spend quality time with family and friends. These rights are held dear, since many women worldwide are deprived of them. It has been a combined effort of men AND women to accomplish these goals, and it remains a continuous effort to ensure that they are not eroded. WAVEs use these opportunities to attain their vision, confirming that empowering women alongside men is an advantage to our society overall.

When you see the W.A.V.E. logo, it means the blog or book review is about women with the above qualities and what we can learn from their stories. Some authors use historical fiction to portray the situations that a real person would face at that time; others have researched their subjects and try to be as historically accurate as possible. All the stories are filled with inspiration and passion. I hope you enjoy and appreciate these incredible characters!