“Who was the first girl chemist?” When a then 7-year-old Georgia Ross asked this question in 2017, her mother, Shauna Upp, a photographer and homeschooler, seized the opportunity to dive into a research project that led them to learn about Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, the first African-American woman to receive a Chemistry PhD in the United States. Daly’s story inspired Georgia to pretend to be the history-maker, “playing” chemistry all day. It was an empowering moment that evolved into a dynamic mother-daughter photo-biography project called She Made History, which, as of today, has featured Georgia as 100 different black women she’s learned about, accompanied by each of their inspiring stories.
In an email interview, Shauna told WYSK, “It was clear that Georgia had made a personal connection with Dr. Daly’s accomplishments and life story. It was such a great opportunity to bring history to life and empower her as a young black girl. I took a few pictures, printed them with a little summary for her to keep. And just like that, we had the beginning of a personal homeschool curriculum for our daughter. Focusing on black women who have made history gave us an exciting direction.”
Shauna and Georgia, now 10, have been on their journey of discovery through black women’s history since March 2017. The very first photo Shauna posted to their She Made History site was a shot she took of Georgia as Dr. Alfreda Johnson Webb, the first African-American woman to graduate from veterinary school (1949) in the United States. To date, Georgia has transformed into 100 past and present barrier-breakers and trailblazers, including Mae Jemison, Molly Wiliams, Jane Matilda Bolin, Mildred Blount, Vernice Armour, Brehanna Daniels, Phillis Wheatley, Nina Simone, and Ella Baker (photo-bio 100, just released today).
“There are so many amazing African-American women, both past and present, that hold important stories,” Shauna shared. “They are strong, intelligent, brave, resourceful, talented women who have shaped the world around them.” So deciding which women to feature is the most challenging part of the mother-daughter duo’s She Made History adventure.
Ultimately, the subject is Georgia’s choice, and she usually picks the women she portrays “based on something in her world that triggers an interest.” When it comes to costuming their photo shoots, Shauna quipped that she and Georgia, “generally raid everyone’s closets, or we knock on neighbors doors, or we send frantic texts to friends asking for help.” As for props, they’re made “by printing paper microphones, earrings, Oscar Awards, etc. and pretending they are real.”
Through their She Made History project, Shauna and Georgia never set out to “make photographs that are exact copies of the women we find.” She noted, “Our goal is to discover and connect with their lives. Our goal is to highlight their contributions to this world, to make their stories accessible to all women and girls that are in the process of creating their own history.”
In continuing to expand the scope of their She Made History project, Shauna and Georgia are posting a new photo-biography on their site and Instagram every day this month for Black History Month 2020 and plan to do the same in March for Women’s History Month. Their commitment to their mission is truly inspiring. “Imagine if every little girl grew up learning about these extraordinary women, they would never doubt their place in the world or their own limitless possibilities,” Shauna said.
Cheers to that Shauna, and brava to you and Georgia for sharing what you learn about black women everyone should know in such a creative and meaningful way.
Lead Photo: (left) Georgia in February 2020 as Ella Baker (1903-1986), hero of the civil rights movement; Georgia in February 2019 as singer, songwriter, pianist, Nina Simone (1933-2003), who was considered one of the most influential and gifted recording artists of the 20th century. All photos courtesy of Shauna and Georgia, and republished on Women You Should Know with their express permission.
“We have a multi ethnic family with kids ranging from age 25 to 10, five girls and one trans-son. Most of our children are adopted and are people of color.” – Shauna (pictured far left and Georgia lower right)