Showing how women made their mark

Thousands of years ago, a powerful queen reigned over an ancient civilization. Her name was Hatshepsut, and her legacy and history continue to make ancient Egypt one of the most mysterious yet fascinating places on earth.

On Monday, Hatshepsut came to life through Erin O'Neill, who dressed like the pharaoh and told students at the Pegasus School in Huntington Beach all about her life, accomplishments and tragedies.

O'Neill was one of 25 Pegasus mothers and grandmothers who dressed like a woman from history, researched her and visited the school as that woman, just a day before International Women's Day.

O'Neill, who has been fascinated by Egypt's history since visiting the country about 30 years ago, chose Hatshepsut because of the mystery surrounding her life and the arts and literature she gave to her civilization.

"There are not plenty of female Egyptian pharaohs. There were very few," O'Neill said. "She was really unusual and reigned for a long time and accomplished incredible amount of arts and literature. The architecture she instituted wouldn't be duplicated again."

O'Neill, the grandmother of Pegasus student Louise Chuteau, said she wanted the children to know that they can reach any goal if they put their minds to it. O'Neill is also the mother of Pegasus teacher Benedicte Bradford.

Hatshepsut was just one of many great women who "visited" Pegasus on Monday. Among the others were Eleanor Roosevelt, French fashion designer Coco Chanel, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, first female American doctor Elizabeth Blackwell, photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, Burmese political leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the first advocate of blind and deaf groups, Annie Sullivan.

"There are so many untold stories that we take for granted and we don't understand the adversaries that so many of these women faced," said Eva Polizzi, assistant librarian at Pegasus.

Women's History Day at Pegasus takes place only once every three years, Polizzi said. It is a way to keep the day from becoming a normal activity, and plus, it's a lot of work to put it on, she said.

"Kids take for granted how easy their lives are," Polizzi said. "They forget that not so long ago, women couldn't go to school and couldn't play sports."

Rachel Bryan was impressed with the women who visited her school. She was especially interested in Martha Graham, a pioneer of modern dance. The 11-year-old said she's a modern dancer and she knew a lot about Graham from her dance studies.

Rachel was inspired by all of the women's stories — their determination to make a difference in societies that didn't give them the same rights as men.

"A long time ago, women weren't allowed to vote and were treated differently from men, and I just can't imagine living like that," Rachel said.

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