Women of excellence


First woman to obtain a Baccalauréat (French Senior High School diploma): Julie Daubié (1824-1874). She obtained her Baccalauréat in 1861. She was also the first woman in France to earn a B.A. in Literature, in 1871, at a time La Sorbonne was not open to women.


Catherine Brewer was the first American woman to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Macon, Georgia, 1849.



Until 1920, women were not allowed to matriculate at Oxford. 1920! A mere century ago. In October that year the statute of the University of Oxford changed. On the first ceremony when women could graduate, forty did so. Annie Rogers had been the first woman to receive honours in Latin and Greek – for women – in 1877 but she  only matriculated and graduated in 1920.


Elizabeth Garret Anderson, though British, is the first woman to receive an M.D. degree at the French Faculté de Médecine in 1870. And the first English Doctor. Madeleine Brès (1842-1924) is the first French female Doctor in 1875. She was barred at the Intern admission which was only opened to women in 1882. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) is the first American woman Doctor (1849). Yet, in the early 20th century, medicine was not considered a fit profession for woman. My grandmother’s sister, Jeanne Onraët, wanted to be a Doctor. “No! No! Medicine is not for women!” She died a military nurse during WWI.


Hélène Boucher (1908-1934) is one the very first woman pilots, earning her license in 1931, at 23, when planes were contraptions of wood, cloth, metal and wires. In her time, she won several records. She died at 26 in a plane crash. Of course, everyone remembers Amelia Earhart (1897-1937). Just a note: I wish I could mention all pioneers, but space is limited. 🙂


Marie Curie (1867-1934), a French chemist of Polish origin is the first woman to receive the Nobel prize in 1903, and the only one to have received two Nobel prizes.



Voting rights for women. New Zealand, 1893. Hurray! Canada, 1917. Britain and Germany, 1918. USA, 1920. I am sorry to report that French women voted for the first time only after WWII, in 1945. My grandmother was born in 1882. She was 63 when she first voted in a general election.


When I entered “classes préparatoires” (a typical French 2-3 year stint between High School and College, a bit like Pre-Law, or Pre-Med) in 1970, some business schools (HEC) and the top Engineering school, Polytechnique, were closed to women. 1970! Anne Chopinet, born in 1953, was one of the first seven women to pass the entrance exam to Polytechnique in 1972. And she won the first place. Today there are still only 61 women studying at Polytechnique for 339 men. In French business schools however, when in my days the percentage of women hovered around 15-20%, women now account for approximately 60% of enrolment.


According to the Pew Research Center, 36% of Millenial women in the US have at least a BA or BS. Compared to 29% of Millenial men. Millenials are defined as born between 1981 and 1996.



Abortion is legal in France since 1975. A law defended and passed by then Minister of Health Simone Veil (1927-2017). The amount of grief , even insults, she had to take in the Assemblée Nationale is still – to me – unbelievable. In the US, Roe vs. Wade decriminalized abortion nation-wide in 1973. Yet, abortion is still under attack in France (Senate on extended delays) and the US, to name a few. In 125 countries, abortion is highly restricted, from totally illegal to strictly limited to exceptional cases. In some cases, a miscarriage is considered a criminal offence.


(Only) 33 women belong to Fortune 500 CEO’s. 33! Though the figure is the highest ever, I contend that parity is slowing down. Not just in the US. At 70%, the female employment rate in Germany is below male employment rate (78%). And 37% of German women employed work part-time. KKK (Kinder, Küche, Kirche: Kids, Kitchen, Church) is still a reality in Germany. Don’t know why, I think I’m gonna get some “Flak”! Those are just a few examples, folks. Don’t shoot the messenger. 🙂


“What’s your point”?

Two-fold: a) The place of women in many societies has undergone tremendous changes in little over a century, with an acceleration since the 60’s-70’s, up to recent times. Women in many parts of the world can now live their life pretty much as they choose. No small feat. b) However, in many parts of the world, in countless societies, rural, urban, religious, what have you, the opportunities for women are either blocked, or worse, some try to reverse the progress that has been achieved.

In a nutshell, much has been done. Much still needs to be done. 🙂

Now, why the bl..dy drawings? Because of a post by Randall Collis called “Women of the American West pursuing excellence”. See this great post here:

Women of the American West: Pursuing Excellence

I’d set myself a drawing challenge: to draw horses. Horses. Not women. 🙂 Nothing is more difficult to draw than a horse. Human anatomy is a piece of cake compared to horses. The movement, the bodies, everything is difficult about drawing horses. And I remembered the post. Saved a few pictures – for inspiration – of those incredible women pushing their rides to the limit. What struck me beyond their obvious focus and Devil-may-dare attitude, was that they were having fun! Great fun! While I was struggling with the drawing, the story came easily: “Women of excellence.” Forget horses. Focus on key women and dates. The rest is just quick research. Those women Randall Collis just photographed, and the two I drew, could probably not have done it fifty years ago.

Keep riding Ladies. 🙂



130 thoughts on “Women of excellence

    • Absolutely Ellen. A lot of men are cowards. Period. If many men just love to put others in subservience, imagine the threat they feel about women as equals? (Or superior?).
      How’s the UK? Will you stand up to Bojo? You can’t let him suspend Parliament. That would be the beginning of the end for the “Free” world.
      Thanks for the visit.

      • Sorry, I only just found your reply. The supreme court just today ordered parliament back into session, so that much progress has been made. Whether they’ll be able to pull together a majority for anything is the next question.

  1. Love this post and your gorgeous drawings (I still have yet to advance beyond stick people). Shocked to learn that French women voted for the first time only after WWII, in 1945 …I always thought the US was at the end of that trail. You sum it up beautifully
    in your ‘nutshell’.

  2. Your remarks on Germany (KKK) not in compliance with reality. Please note that 40 % of Germans are secular, they do not visit churches or mosques or temples of whatever kind. The Christian churches in Germany will loose furthermore again 50 % of its members toll 2060 according actual estimations. Germany gets secular! By the way, the Chancellor of Germany is female, that is not the case in France or Mexico! So there have been changes already, not enough of course, so there is still a lot to do.

      • Just some additional remarks from my side for a better understanding. However, the term ‘flak’ is more disturbing for me! Where I lived in the 1980s you could still many, many shrapnell holes of WW II in the house walls of the back yard for example. Therefore, I would never use this more violent description indeed.

  3. Fantastic drawings! You will be very popular with women in SA. We celebrate women’s month here and sadly so far it has been a black month for many. In the past week the worst murders and crimes against women, happened here. I don’t want to elaborate, but we are in a crisis here.
    Anyway I don’t want to spoil you very uplifting post. In my lifetime I also experienced a lot of discrimination. Being a teacher with a degree in music and Afrikaans language, plus a teacher’s diploma, I was paid way less than men who only had diplomas. The men were earmarked for promotion to senior posts, headmasters and the likes, while women were always left to do the work. A woman could only be headmaster at a girls school.
    While I studied at university, there were two women studying engineering, with my boyfriend, now my loving husband.Everybody laughed and scoffed and gossiped about them, being in a man’s world and they would never make it..blah, blah, blah. They turned out to be top students in their year group.
    Luckily lots have changed in the past forty years and we have llots of ver clever women clawing their way to the top.
    A lot can still be done though.

    • She did? Hats down. I guess you have tried the local libraries? The ones still using microfilm? Googled? There weren’t that many women pilots then. (Or now: I understand they’re about 6%) In her hometown?

  4. Excellent post! As a Canadian woman, I have enjoyed voting, education, career opportunities and the right over my own body. Still, a lt to do, and a road still traveled.
    Your drawing is wonderful. Thank you for this post!

  5. cheers to this post for the history, the horses, and the women rep
    also – did not realize horses were so much tougher than the human to draw – and enjoyed seeing your different drawings

  6. Thank you for such an encouraging and enlightening post! I learned much that I wasn’t at all aware of, and it made me think about how here in the U.S., we truly do seem to be reversing some of the progress women have made over the past 100 years or so. A woman’s right to choose (abortion) is being challenged at the state level by the religious right, and they hope it will make it to the Supreme Court and that the Court will overturn Roe v Wade. Religious leaders in this country are telling the women in their congregations to “be subservient” to their spouses, even when there is abuse. As you say, we’ve come a long way from the day when we were not allowed to vote or own property, but we have a looooooong way to go yet before we are actually viewed as being as smart and capable as a man. Sigh.

  7. What a great series of these women pushing forward against the odds. The anecdote of your great-aunt is very moving. The stories from El Salvador and Chile of women imprisoned for miscarriage are beyond words. I wonder how far some of the United States might be at this rate.

    • Those pioneers changed the world. Now, Alabama, Missouri, Miss-ssipi? They seem to be falling back into the dark ages of the witches of Salem. (Which was New England…)
      I’m still waiting in disbelief to see what will happen to the UK… Will the Queen speak?

  8. A great post on the notable women in history and their achievements. So true the role of women in society has changed a lot but in some places, particularly parts of Asia, women still play second fiddle to man – and this thing called gender. Lovely to see you referenced Randall’s work. He is a great writer and photographer. These drawings of yours look amazing and they seem to capture some kind of drive and ambition. Really like how you started off black and white and then incorporated colour, bit like a build-up to a more open and colorful world.

    • Yes, I can imagine that in some parts of Asia, though my most recent trip to Asia was positive in that respect. Probably depends on the country, culture, class. Lots of factors.
      Drive and ambition? If you saw that it means I succeeded, or almost. (Not to the point of Randall’ photos though)
      I hadn’t thought about the build-up. It’s really technical for me. Some go directly to the colours. I’m “slower”. Start with pencil, erase, draw again, and only when satisfied I ink, and then colour. An interesting thought. Thank you.

  9. I’m revisiting and reading and seeing your drawings so fun! and yes horses are a tough subject…and I appreciate your herstories…Canada had the highest unemployment for PhD graduates in engineering and medical sciences…many of us are unable to find work, agesim is also alive and well here…have a creative and productive day Brian 🤓🤗❣️

    • With pleasure. I’ve always liked “balanced” societies or companies. One of my first jobs was in an engineering company. Well-known. The only – few – women, were the secretaries. I then moved to a consulting firm with close to 50% female execs. It was like coming out of the dark ages. 🙂

      • In my last job, women were in the majority, with only the occasional man in our department. We sometimes commented that a “balanced” department would have been to our benefit.

      • True. Without getting philosophical, unbalance is bad. 🙂 Too many women can be difficult too. 🙂
        I actually had far more women execs than men in my company. They were much better. But sometimes, when hiring, I would try to look more for a man to balance the staff. Provided he was good. 😉

      • Yes. Another issue. Not that difficult to change. My policy was equal pay on hiring. Some women eventually made more than the men because they were better. Seriously. It’s not that difficult. Just one simple company policy.

  10. We have a rather long way to go still. Try working 9 – 6 when childcare closes at 5. Most of my friends hold pretty decent degrees but that doesn’t save them from mumy jobs. That is in the middle of Berlin and not some rural area …

    • I know. I have heard stories. Tiny details such as the closing hour of childcare. And I’m sure there are many examples across Europe. In many places there is even a conscious effort to complicate working mothers’ lives. Thanks for the visit and comment my friend.

  11. Women of Excellence indeed ~ a great list, and as we move forward in time they keep getting better and better. The way you laid out your drawing is the same, each step there is more life, power and emotions until the last on is revealed…excellent work, my friend. The difficulty of drawing horses, especially when they are in ‘movement’ is not easy and like those amazing cowgirls it seems you too shared their “obvious focus and Devil-may-dare attitude, was that they were having fun” with these drawing.

    This is a perfect post, the amazing women in the world ~ they really do make the world go around. It was great to see this post and love it that you found inspiration in the photographs of these great riders. Right now, they are riding again in my hometown as it is time for the Pendleton Round-Up again…alas, I find myself just coming back to Europe for work and am missing all the fun. Next year, you should think about coming up for the Round-Up and sketch ‘live’ while watching 🙂

    Keep riding ladies, and keep drawing Brian!

    • Thank you my friend. Glad you liked the text and drawings. It was a fun process (Though I like the result of one horse and rider better. The exact expression of “your” blonde rider to the right escaped me a bit. Will need to do another. There is another rider on two of your photos, a younger blonde with a red checkered shirt, very elegant, who I might try to draw someday).
      Sorry you’ll miss this year’s show.
      And thanks for the inspiration.

      • I think you have done a masterful job with them all ~ I would imagine expressions are the most difficult to draw (similar to the flow of a running horse). Yes, the younger, blonde with a checkered shirt is a very elegant rider and one of my favorite barrel racer photos. Wish you a great week ahead!

      • We agree on the elegance. They all are actually. 🙂
        So barrel racer is what they’re called? I imagine it’s a time issue, racing your several hundred kilos horse to the limit, swerve it at 45º, by magic of knees and hands and turn around. And not an eyelash out of place. 🙂
        Again thanks for the inspiration. I will work on expressions on further sketches. (Though I already had a go on a previous drawing “call me Kate”. I can send you the link if you like. (I try not put uninvited links on others’ blogs)

      • At the Pendleton Round-Up, the barrel racing takes place in a larger than normal field with a long grass interior which leads to some beautiful scenes ~ elegant riders and their incredible horses. Really a sight to see. Would love to receive the link if you could send it. I’m in HK for a few days after time in China and great to be back in 32 degree heat, love it 🙂 Cheers to a great day and great weekend.

  12. A truth well told, Brian. The patriarchy is very much alive and well. I see you received some flak, but in my bit of Europe there’s still a church tax, and unmarried couples don’t have the same rights as married couples. The ‘old order’ is doing quite nicely. Interestingly, I’ve recently been working with researchers on gendered forms of corruption in Latin America, particularly bribery for public services. The data related to sexual extortion (or sextortion) is yet to be published, but needless to say, it’s shocking.
    Hope all well with you?

    • I see you noticed the Flak. And thank you for adding more data. 🙂 In this particular case, Germany is just what I call a”sample of one”. An example. What happens somewhere amy happen elsewhere in another form. Daughter #2 who is slowly growing into an international consultant for NGO’s on Gender issues just completed a survey in several LatAm countries where the gender issue is clearly a barrier to Development. (Therefore an opportunity) I also did a study in Mexico some years back on sexual abuse that was shocking.
      All as well as can be Paul. 🙂 Take care.

  13. Pingback: Women of excellence — Equinoxio – Truth Troubles

  14. What a gorgoues post, Brian. I love the drawings, so whimsical and fierce. I remember Randall’s post from quite a while ago and I can totally understand how it inspired you. Your work is beautiful collaboration. Keep riding, eh? Well, if you insist. 🙂

    • Thanks Julie. It is a pleasure to draw and paint again. And what better inspiration than Randall’s superb photos. The expression on those women’s face as they ride “their pony” to the limit. Precious.
      (Yes, I insist) 😉

  15. What a gorgeous post,Brian. I love the drawings, so whimsical and fierce. I remember Randall’s incredible post from quite a while ago. I can totally understand how it would inspire you. Your work is beautiful collaboration. Keep riding, eh? Well, if you insist. 😁

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  17. Such a great post! We often forget how short of a time it has been. I find myself frustrated so often with the attitudes I still encounter, but just as racism takes time to get rid of, so do ignorant attitudes about gender. Thanks for shining the spotlight on some strong and worthy women! Also the drawings tied it all together in a curiously delightful progression towards the final product. Women’s progress is not so final nor neat but it is moving forward!

    • It is moving forward. Slowly, with setbacks, but moving forward. It’s what I tell our youngest daughter who’s a consultant in International development, focusing on Gender issues. The impact of Gender on Development is considerable. But every little step counts.
      Thanks for your visit and comment. 🙂

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