League of Women Voters

Women worth knowing


This week we continue the series of women worth knowing, as suggested by LWV members. When LWV Karen Gunther submitted Karen Dobkins, PhD, as a notable woman she admired, Gunther said, “Before meeting [Dobkins] I had a female boss who was just nasty. I wondered if that was how you had to act to succeed as a woman in science. Then I met my graduate advisor. She was successful in science and nice. She showed me that you don’t have to be unpleasant to be a successful woman in science.”

Indeed, many of us have met highly intellectual or ambitious people who come across as egotistical or unable to relate to others with sincerity and humaneness ­— the kind of humaneness of which Confucius’ referenced when he wrote “Being in humaneness is good. If we select other goodness and thus are far apart from humaneness, how can we be the wise?”

Karen Dobkins teaches and researches in her psychology specialty at UC San Diego. Her studies first focused on neuroscience and moved to child development. Dobkins also focused on perceptual and brain development in children, studying children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Dobkins’ studies included child development, leading her to study childcare facility design and cofound a company in Europe that designs developmentally rich spaces for children. It focuses on enriching children’s experiences through the intentional placement of furniture and installations so they evoke emotional and intellectual growth. Presently, Dobkins studies climate change stress, mindfulness and mental well-being.

John Smilie nominated Kati Kariko as an admirable woman, another scientist.

Much of scientific discovery comes from building upon and collaborating with others, which is what led to biochemist Kariko and immunologist Drew Weissman winning the 2023 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Kariko grew up in Soviet Hungary without a refrigerator, running water or a television. Along with her husband and daughter, she migrated to Philadelphia in 1985. Hungary’s restrictive government only let its residents leave the country with the equivalent of $100 ­— can you imagine trying to vacation, let alone move for post-doctoral work with so little in your pocket? So, she and her husband sewed about $1,250 into their 2-year-old’s stuffed animal.

Research enthralled Kariko. She specialized in mRNA, which commands the body’s genes to produce various proteins. In early experiments with tenured faculty, Kariko explored mRNA’s possibilities to stimulate insulin production for diabetic patients, nitric oxide for cardiac patients and HIV vaccines. As with all scientific experimentation, the failures were as revelatory and important as the successes.

To follow her passion, Kariko worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania for 20 years. In 2005, she and her partner had a breakthrough in discovering that with the addition of tRNA, mRNA could be used to make vaccines for HIV, Influenza B and other illnesses without triggering a whole body immune and inflammation response. This laid the groundwork to develop therapeutics including two of the COVID-19 vaccines. In 2020, Kariko’s passion for research paid off. Despite life’s barriers including a demotion that UPenn offered so she could keep researching, her research led to a vaccine that reduced the virulent COVID-19 effects for the world’s population.

Finally, from the National League of Women Voters, we retell the life of a “Forgotten Foremother,” Eva Gore-Booth, an Irish suffragist. Born in 1870 to a wealthy family during the Great Potato Famine, she was home-educated and had a quiet, if lonely childhood. Gore-Booth’s father and grandfather owned 32,000 acres farmed by many tenants. When a fungus attacked the potato plants on which most of the low and middle class based their diet ­— the wealthy exported 75% of Irish crops like wheat, oats, and barley to the U.K. — nearly 1.5 million Irish starved to death.

Michael J. Winstanley wrote, “God, so the story goes, may have sent the potato blight but the English caused the famine.” While most of the wealthy landowners lived in the U.K. removed from the starvation they were causing, Gore-Booth’s grandfather and father stayed in Ireland and distributed food to their farmers.

The experience shaped Gore-Booth into an activist for women and the working class, for which she paid a price. When Gore-Booth spoke up against Winston Churchill’ legislation that would have made it illegal for women to work in bars, the media mocked her for coming from a privileged background. What right did a wealthy woman have speaking up for working ones, they charged.

Early on, she met and grew close to Esther Roper, a woman from the middle class in Manchester, England. Gore-Booth traded her upper-class life to live and work alongside Roper. They took on Winston Churchill’s legislation and won.

When the First World War began, Gore-Booth’s activism turned against the nationalism that fueled the war. She wrote there are two kinds of people: “People who believe that humanity exists for the sake of states and governments [and] ... People that believe that government and state exist for the sake of humanity.” Of the former, she wrote, “Your duty to the country you were born in [is] your highest duty. You must be ready to go out and kill and die if your country calls on you. The same principle that makes you, if you are born in London, willing to go out and kill people who are born in Vienna makes you, if you are born in Vienna, ready to go and kill people for being born in London. In fact, you make a god of geography, and no holocaust of human lives is too great to be sacrificed to this amazing God. This great human sacrifice is the supreme expression of the religion of patriotism.” (Underlining hers.)

Meanwhile in Ireland, Booth-Gore’s sister Constance was one of the Irish republicans who seized and occupied important buildings in the April 1916 uprising. The British moved swiftly and brutally to squash the movement, taking over 3,000 people prisoners, declaring martial law and sentencing the best-known rebels, including Constance, to death by firing squad. Constance’s sentence was changed “on account of her sex” to life imprisonment ­— “I wish you had the decency to shoot me,” Constance told the court. Even though she was opposed to violence, Gore-Booth visited her sister in prison. Later Constance ran for office and Gore-Booth voted for her.

Gore-Booth went on to a life of writing, from poems to philosophical essays, that challenged gender expectations. She died of cancer at 56 in 1926 and her partner Roper biographed Gore-Booth’s life. They were buried side-by-side in London after Roper died in 1938.


The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.