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Stacey Abrams is a trailblazer in American politics, becoming the first female and first African American woman holding state and national political positions. Born to Carolyn and Robert Abrams on December 9, 1973 in Madison, Wisconsin, her parents imbued her with the values of civil rights, advocating for civic engagement. Her parents participated in the civil rights movements, with her mother being kicked off buses and her father being beaten and jailed for his activism. Raised with the mantra that she could be anything, her family encouraged her not only to vote but also to volunteer to help others register and get out to vote—a legacy that continues today.
Pauli Murray was an American poet, writer, civil rights advocate, legal theorist, and priest who is remembered for breaking down gender, racial and other forms of injustice from a young age. Murray was one of the twelve founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and later joined the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 1973, Murray had a tenure-track job teaching American studies at Brandeis University, and in 1977 became the first African American woman in the US to be ordained an Episcopal priest. Murray forever changed social justice movements of the twentieth century by advocating for equal rights and helping articulate the intellectual foundations behind both NOW and EEOC.
Mary Treadwell was a renowned DC-based activist and community organizer known for co-creating Youth Pride, Inc. and advocating for the decriminalization of abortion as part of the Black liberation movement. She attended Fisk University in the early 1960s, where she received her undergraduate degree in business. Treadwell was active in numerous causes including the antiwar movement, prison reform, and reproductive rights. In 1971, she organized a large anti-Vietnam War protest, and joined the Women’s Commission on Abortion and Forced Sterilization. In her support for decriminalizing abortion, she argued that government control over bodies was another form of discrimination against minorities in America. Treadwell was dedicated to advocating for reproductive rights until her death.
Maya Angelou was a poet, dancer, singer, activist, and scholar who became a world-famous author. Her works include poetry volumes such as the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Just Give Me a Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, essay collections, and several spoken albums of her poetry, the most notable being ‘On the Pulse of the Morning’ which won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album. She was most renowned for her autobiographical writing style and is best remembered for her 1969 publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, an autobiography of her early life which was nominated for the National Book Award. In 2011, President Barack Obama recognized her remarkable career in the arts by awarding her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the country’s highest civilian honor.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become an icon for women’s rights and gender equality after overcoming gender discrimination in her own pursuit of education. Appointed to the US Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Ginsburg was then nominated as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, becoming the second woman and first Jewish woman to ever serve on the court. Throughout her tenure, Ginsburg has fought for women’s rights, with her most notable accomplishment being penning the court’s opinion for the United States v. Virginia case, in which she declared that the Virginia Military Institute could not exclude women.
Susan Brownell Anthony
Susan Brownell Anthony was a prominent leader of the women’s suffrage movement, advocating for temperance, abolition, the rights of labor, and equal pay. Alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she traveled around the country to promote women’s suffrage, but the two were disappointed when the 14th and 15th Amendments granted voting rights only to African American men. As a result, they formed the National Women’s Suffrage Association to fight for a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. Anthony remained at the head of the organization until 1900, continuing to give speeches and lobby Congress. In 1906, Anthony passed away fourteen years before the 19th Amendment secured women’s right to vote in 1920.
Corazon “Cory” Aquino
Recognized as TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year in 1986, Corazon “Cory” Aquino became the first female president of the Philippines. Despite initial results announcing Marcos as the winner, Aquino with the support of the People Power Revolution, declared victory and protests ensued. However, with Aquino and faith leaders encouraging peace, no shots were fired or deaths reported. President Reagan eventually convinced Marcos to go into exile, thus allowing Aquino to become the nation’s first female president. After her one-term presidency, Aquino restored the constitution, leading to a successful period in Philippine history.
Josephine Baker was a renowned performer, World War II spy, and activist whose fame took her from performing in vaudeville shows and the Harlem Renaissance in New York City to becoming one of the most sought-after performers in Paris due to her unique dancing style and costumes that followed African themes. She used her platform to fight racial injustices into the 1970s and adopted 13 children from different countries to illustrate that racial and cultural harmony could exist. With her platform, she devoted her life to standing up for racial justice
Lucille Ball was an American actress and comedienne who broke barriers for women in the entertainment industry. She rose to fame starring in the popular television series I Love Lucy, which premiered in 1951 and ran until 1957 and spawned several spin-offs. As a businesswoman, she also established Desilu Productions with her husband, which produced hit shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show and Star Trek. When their marital relationship ended, he sold her his ownership of the studio, making her the first woman to own a major studio. Ball went on to have a successful career in film, television, and theatre.
Mary Jane McLeod Bethune
Mary Jane McLeod Bethune was a civil, women’s and education’s rights leader, government advisor and educator, who was a daughter of former slaves. A champion of racial and gender equality, she faced racist attacks but nonetheless put herself forward as an advocate for African Americans. In 1924 she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, in 1935 the founding president of the National Council of Negro Women and member of the advisory board that in 1942 created the Women’s Army Corps. Appointed by President Harry S. Truman, Bethune was the only woman of color at the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945. She is remembered as an instrumental part of the transition from the Republican Party of Lincoln to a Democratic Party support amongst African American voters.
Daisy Bates was a Civil Rights activist who had a profound influence on the movement. At three years old, her mother was killed by three white men, and this early trauma informed her life’s work advocating for the rights of African Americans. She served as the President of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP, congregated African American students to enroll in all-white schools in light of 1954 Supreme Court ruling, After the success of the Little Rock Nine, Bates continued to work on improving the status of African Americans in the South and published her memoir – The Long Shadow of Little Rock – in 1962. Her work with school integration gained national attention and earned her an American Book Award.
Julia Child, a famous chef, author, and television personality, introduced French cuisine to American audiences. After the war, she married Paul Child and they moved to Paris where she studied at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. In the 1960s they returned to the United States where she was approached by PBS to host her own series “The French Chef” based on her book. The program was a success, winning a Peabody and an Emmy Award. She wrote several more cookbooks including a second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Elizabeth Blackwell was a pioneering figure in the U.S. medical profession, becoming the first woman to receive a medical degree in America. Despite facing discrimination and obstacles at college, she persisted and opened her own medical college for women in New York City in 1868. She eventually returned to London, where she became a professor of gynecology at the new London School of Medicine for Women, as well as helping to found the National Health Society and publishing several books, including an autobiography.
Amanda Blackhorse, a social worker and member of the Navajo Nation, has been a prominent example of Native American activists fighting for justice and respect. Her 2006 lawsuit Blackhorse et al v. Pro-Football Inc., which aimed to change the Washington Football Team’s name on account of its denigration of Native Americans, is evidence of her commitment to the cause. While Dan Snyder, the team owner, had repeatedly argued that the old name honored Native Americans, Blackhorse and other plaintiffs disagreed, which led to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoking six federal trademarks on the same in 2014. Blackhorse is one of many activists who has contributed to the recent proposal of changing the team’s name, which continues to show progress towards eliminating racism against Native Americans.
Ruby Bridges made history in November 1960 at the age of six when she became the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South, despite resistance from southern states to desegregation. While this followed the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, which ended racial segregation in public schools, these states continued to resist integration and required entrance exams for African American students to attend an all-white school. Over time, more African American students enrolled, which was later commemorated by the artist Norman Rockwell in his 1964 painting “The Problem We All Live With”, celebrating Ruby’s courage.
Martha Hughes, also known as Mattie, was born in Wales in 1857 and was admitted to the University of Michigan, one of the few schools that accepted both men and women. She graduated from medical school and gained an additional degree in pharmacy from the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for the then-new germ theory of disease, she also attended the National School of Elocution. Invited by the Democratic party to run for state senate, Martha Hughes Cannon became the first female state senator in US history. During her four-year term, she pushed for bills that would form the Utah Health Department and improve sanitation in the area, as well as providing education for children with disabilities. She was a highly effective senator was being considered for a run for Congress.
Amelia Jenks Bloomer
Amelia Jenks Bloomer was a notable suffragist, editor, and social activist who is well known for her push towards dress reform in the mid-1800s. Bloomer attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention and began publishing The Lily newspaper soon after, which initially covered temperance but soon expanded to include other issues concerning women. After meeting Elizabeth Cady Stanton and publishing articles on the women’s rights movement, she pushed for a new style of dress called ‘Bloomers’, consisting of pantaloons and a tunic—representing independence for women as well as activism in the women’s rights movement. Although the style was met with ridicule from conservatives, it remains an iconic representation of feminist fashion and history.
Dr. Dorothy Height
Dr. Dorothy Height was a prominent civil rights leader and activist who inspired and organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963. She received a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in psychology from New York University and was motivated to begin working with the National Council of Negro Women by Mary McLeod Bethune. Height was widely recognized and awarded throughout her career, such as receiving the Citizen Medal Award from President Reagan in 1989, the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004, and 24 honorary degrees. Her supreme knowledge and influence in the Civil Rights Movement made her an icon that will always be a source of inspiration.
Frances Payne Bolton
Frances Payne Bolton was highly active in philanthropy, politics, and social reform throughout her life. She is noted for her advocacy of education, healthcare and civil rights for African Americans, as well as her contribution to the field of nursing. Bolton was appointed to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Congress and made history by becoming the first woman to lead a Congressional delegation on a tour of Africa in 1947. Bolton was also requested by President Eisenhower to join a Congressional delegation to the United Nations in 1953, making her the first female delegate to the organization. In addition, Bolton served on various boards, including those of the Tuskegee Institute, the Middle East Institute, and the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Tarana Burke an activist community organizer, executive and the founder of the ‘me too’ Movement. Her hashtag has been used over 19 million times on Twitter, and she was named Person of the Year by TIME Magazine in 2017. Burke attended Alabama State University, a HBCU, to further her organizing skills and then moved to Selma after graduating to work for 21st Century where she encountered young women of color who were survivors of sexual violence and abuse, which resonated with her as she was also a survivor of such abuse. This shifted her focus to supporting these women, founding Just Be Inc., for survivors, and creating an online platform for peer support. She also collaborated with artists on the #MeTooTV project to combat sexual violence against girl children and launched #meTooVigilance which aims to curb gender based violence in public spaces.
Joyce Chen was a well-known chef, television personality and restaurant owner who introduced Chinese food to the American public. In 1967, she opened her second small restaurant, began teaching cooking classes and star in her own cooking show on PBS, called Joyce Chen Cooks. Her first cookbook was published two years later and focused on her own recipes combined with cooking tips, using chopsticks, importance of tea and other traditions. In 1958, Chen opened her first restaurant to serve both Chinese and American dishes to encourage customers to try new foods. She also pioneered the concept of buffet-style meals to allow customers to sample all the items.
Homepage Image/Featured Image: Recently elected members of the Smithsonian Institution Women’s Council are (front row, from left) Penny Packard, Andrea Brown (Secretary Treasurer), Mary Quinn (Chairperson), Edith Martin (Assistant Secretary-Treasurer), Dianne Walker, Ann Perper, Karen Hill; (back row, from left) Lisa May, Barbara Newfield, Brenda Coley, Rosemary DeRosa, Claretta Jackson, Sheila Alexander, Teresa Grana, and Catherine Harris (Vice-Chairperson). Members not shown are Susan Cox, Catherine Creek, Brenda Hall, Edith Mayo, and Joanna Scherer (Historian).
Homepage Image/Featured Image Source: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 371, Box 02, Folder: December 1975, Image No. 75-14850-05
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