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Influential Women in American History
Learn about some of the many influential women throughout American history, with a special focus on important women from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Click on an image to learn more about each woman.
Suffrage Political Cartoon, March 1917
Can You Name Any Women Inventors?
25 Female Writers Who Changed History
See also, the
History of Women's History Month
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Key Writing or Achievement
First First Lady
Revolution: Primary Sources
from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and Mount Vernon
Both during the war and in the Presidential mansion, Martha Washington worked to raise troops' morale and make all guests feel welcome during formal occasions.
As the first First Lady of the United States (a term applied posthumously) she worked to help her husband present the United States as a legitimate, independent nation.
Martha Washington did not care for her new, public role, but strove to fulfill her duties with dignity.
First Lady and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States
Remember the Ladies Letter
See also selections from
The Letters of John and Abigail Adams
was born of November 11, 1744, in Weymouth Massachusetts. Like most girls of her era, Adams did not receive a formal education, but she read books from her father's library and studied the Bible, history, philosophy, essays, and poetry.
Abigail Adams is best known as being the First Lady to the Second President of the United States, John Adams, and being mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. She was very ahead of her time in her beliefs.
She opposed slavery, supported equal education for both men and women, and encouraged helping those who were less fortunate.
For more, see
United States History I.22
Arguably created the first American Flag.
Click here for a
virtual tour of the Betsy Ross house
Elizabeth Griscom was one of 17 children and was born in Philidelphia, PA. At a young age, Betsy was involved with sewing. After attending school she would work at an upholsterer's shop and would sew.
At age 21, Elizabeth eloped with John Ross and married in 1763. He was the first of three husbands.
During the Revolutionary War, Betsy ran an upholstery shop and it is thought that she made shirts for George Washington.
In 1777, the Continental Congress decided that the American flag should be 13 stars in a blue field and 13 alternating red and white stripes.
There are records showing that she was paid to make a flag, but it was not necessarily the first one made in the colonies. Despite this common misconception, she was involved in the revolution and provided an important leadership for women.
Native American Guide for Lewis & Clark Expedition
Sacagawea as an Evolving Symbol of American Indian Women
from Bethel University.
The Dinner Party--Place Setting: Sacajawea
from the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
The daughter of a Shoshone Chief, Sacagawea was kidnapped by the Hidatsa around the age of 10. She was later purchased and wed by Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian trapper who was engaged as an interpreter for Lewis and Clark's famous expedition in 1804.
Sacagawea accompanied the expedition across the west to the Pacific, acting as an interpreter, peacemaker and guide. She was the only woman and the only Indian on the expedition.
Sacagawea and her husband and son parted ways with Lewis and Clark on the return journey. It is uncertain as to whether Sacagawea died young in 1812 from "Putrid Fever" in the upper Missouri, or if she returned to the Shoshone and died much older in 1884.
Founded Mount Holyoke Female Seminary
Mary Lyon to Hannah White, 1834
Mary Lyon established schools for females. She opened the Buckland Female School, an all girls school in 1824. As she was opening the Buckland Female School, she worked as a teacher for the summer term classes at Ipswich Female Seminary. Later she started teaching full time there.
In 1834, she resigned from Buckland Female School to focus on opening her own school. In 1837, Mary Lyon opened Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She served as principal, teacher and organizer of domestic system for twelve years.
Abolitionist and Women's Rights Activist
Why Was Sojourner Truth Such a Dynamic and Powerful Reformer?
from Waynesburg University with links to primary sources including her "Ain't I A Woman" speech.
For more, see
United States History I.31
Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army during the Civil War. Following the war, she unsuccessfully fought to secure land grants from the U.S. government for formerly enslaved blacks.
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York with the given name of Isabella Baumfree. In 1799, New York state began the gradual abolition of slavery which was to be final on July 4, 1827. After Isabella's owner rescinded on his promise to free her a year prior to this date, she escaped to freedom in the middle of the night with her daughter.
Later she said: "I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right." Once free, she legally petitioned for the return of her son who had illegally been sold out of state. She won, making her the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.
Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth and worked as traveling preacher and Women's rights activist.
best-known speech "Ain't I a Woman?"
was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention.
Created the first generation of mental asylums
For more, see
Dorothea Dix Begins Her Crusade, March 28, 1841
that includes a selection from "Memorial to the Massachusetts Legislature, 1843."
For a short Biography on Dorothea click
of Dorothea's life, and major accomplishments.
Dorothea Dix, went to her home state of Massachusetts and provided care for the insane poor. Those individuals who did not have any family or friends left, to help care for them.
It is because of her witnessing these tragedies, that she went throughout New Hampshire to Louisiana, lobbying and drafting with committees in order to create and enable legislation that would create asylums throughout the states.
The culmination of her works became known as the Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane, which stated that the federal government would set land and funds aside to build asylums throughout the states.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Abolitionist and writer
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Uncle Tom's Cabin
inspired droves of Americans to support abolition and the book itself was an immediate best-seller, selling 10,000 the first week and more than 300,000 copies in the first year, which was a record at that time for ANY book in the Western World.
The book sold about 2 million copies by 1857.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was a stand-out voice for abolition in the United States before and during the Civil War. Her background included the traditional education usually provided only for male children and a desire to open the eyes of average Americans to the plight of slavery. She did this through public activism and the publication of her most famous novel
Uncle Tom's Cabin
in 1852 as well as dozens of other works.
She also influenced other influential policymakers with her abolitionist thinking, when younger she joined her father in Cincinnati, Ohio and joined the Semi-Colon Club, a social club where she met Salmon P. Chase, future Supreme Court Justice.
See the website of the
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
in Hartford, Connecticut.
For more, see
United States History I.36
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Woman's Rights Activist
The Declaration of Sentiments
History of Woman Suffrage Vol. 1-3
, with Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage (1881, 1886)
The Woman's Bible
Stanton was one of the co-organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention in July, 1848, from which her Declaration of Sentiments arose.
Many credit this convention, and Stanton herself, with jump-starting the women's suffrage and women's rights movements in the United States. Stanton was an outspoken proponent for a number of women's rights issues, not just suffrage.
She fought to secure property rights, access to education and the professions, divorce rights, and other rights for women. In 1869 there was a rift in the Suffrage Movement over the passage of the 15th Amendment, and Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) of which she was president from 1869-1890.
Many of the more conservative members of the women's movement did not approve of Stanton's more radical approach. Stanton, always a steadfast proponent of women's rights in all spheres, was a critic of the sexism she found in organized Christianity.
In 1890 the NWSA merged with the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association of which Stanton was the first president (1890-92).
Mary Todd Lincoln
Took an active role in promoting Abraham Lincoln's political career, and was an advocate of abolitionism in the White House
"While she could be spiteful, dismissive, corrupt, and jealous, Mary Todd Lincoln could be gracious, caring, and supportive as well.
Her supportive side was very much in evidence during her husband's presidential campaign in 1860. Mary Lincoln was always available for comment on her husband's policies or prospects, was a willing tour guide of the Lincoln home, and was an adviser to her husband, discussing the political prospects of his competitors.
Her involvement was so integral that when Lincoln won in November, he exclaimed, "Mary, Mary, we are elected!"
"Her interest in the abolition of slavery evolved as her friendship with dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley developed, and she became the first hostess to welcome African Americans as guests to the White House."
American President A Reference Resource
First woman to earn a college degree, founding of many abolitionist and suffragist groups.
for more on Lucy Stone
Lucy Stone, a resident of Massachusetts, was the first woman to earn a college degree.
She helped found the first national Women's Rights Convention, the Women's National Loyal League, and worked to ratify the 13th Amendment banning slavery.
Her work in abolition and the suffrage movement laid the groundwork for further groups, leading to wider support for abolition and women's suffrage.
Lucy Stone can be considered a founding member of the abolitionist and women's suffrage movements.
Julia Ward Howe
Poet, Writer, Pacifist, Abolitionist, Suffragist
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Battle Hymn of the Republic performed on a YouTube music video
Mother's Day Proclamation
Howe was a poet and activist. She is the author of the
Battle Hymn of the Republic
After the Civil War she focused much of her attention on the causes of Pacifism and Women's Rights. And in 1870 she was the first to call for Mother's day with her
Mother's Day Proclamation
, which she originally conceived as a day for women to join together to promote peace.
She was a prominent reformer and suffragist, and served as president of a number of organizations, including the New England Women's Club, which was the first women's club in the U.S., and the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1908 she was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
1819 or 1820-1913
African American Abolitionist
Harriet Tubman Letter to President Lincoln, 1862
For more sources, go the
Teaching with Primary Sources
from DePaul University
Timeline of her life with descriptions
For more, see
United States History I.31
Harriet Tubman, worked tirelessly to free those trapped in slavery. Through her efforts with the Underground Railroad, she undertook 19 covert missions and freed nearly 300 slaves; including her siblings and parents. Over her 10 years as a Conductor on the UGRR, she never lost a single passenger.
Furthermore, during the Civil War she worked as a Union spy by identifying potential striking points for the army and recruiting slaves who wished to join the Union Army.
Upon the completion of the war, she was a strong advocate for woman's suffrage, acting as a delegate at the first annual National Association of Colored Women's convention in 1896. She accomplished all she did in her life while being completely illiterate.
Susan B. Anthony
Co-Founded the National Women's Suffrage Association
Susan B. Anthony to U. S. Congress, 1874
. She sent this petition after being fined for voting illegally in an 1872 election in Rochester, New York.
The Trial of Susan B. Anthony
from the Federal Judiciary Center for teaching materials.
of her life.
She was born in Adams, Massachusetts in 1820. She became a school teacher and advocated for abolition and temperance, but she was denied from speaking at conferences because of her sex. As a result, she began fighting for women's rights.
By the age of 30, Anthony left teaching to focus on social reform. She attended the first women's rights convention at the Seneca Falls Convention. This is where she signed her name on the "Declaration of Sentiments".
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton established the National Women's Suffrage Association. She illegally voted in an election in 1872 and was fined as a result. After the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, Anthony argued that women should have the same rights.
Susan B. Anthony went across the United States speaking for women's rights and temperance.
She persuaded the University of Rochester to admit female students in 1900.
She started a newspaper,
, to promote her causes. She was a member of: American Anti-Slavery Society, Women’s National Loyal League, National Women’s Suffrage Association, Women’s State Temperance Society, and the Workingwomen’s Central Association.
For more, see
United States History I.33
Founder and First president of the American Red Cross
For a lesson plan,
Women's History: Clara Barton
from PBS History Detectives
Barton was a nurse during the Civil War and was put in charge of obtaining and distributing supplies to wounded soldiers after the First Battle of Bull Run.
After the war she went on a trip to Switzerland, while there she was introduced to the Red Cross and the book "A Memory of Solferino" by Henry Dunant.
When she returned to the U.S. she sought to gain recognition for the international Red Cross Organization by having the U.S. sign the Treaty of Geneva.
She eventually succeeded in 1882 and would become president and founder of the American Red Cross.
For more, see
United States History I.39
First woman to graduate from an American medical school
Eliizabeth Blackwell Historical Biography page
Blackwell was born in England and emigrated to the U.S. with her family as a child. Blackwell was accepted into Geneva Medical School in New York in 1847, almost by a fluke.
Her fellow male students were allowed to vote on her admission and they, thinking it was joke, unanimously voted "yes."
She received her M.D. in 1849, and then traveled back to England to continue her studies, where she worked as an apprentice and was praised by a famous obstetrician.
Click here for text and analysis of the poem
"I Dwell in Possibility"
from students at the University of South Florida.
Go here for the
text of dozens of poems
posted online by the University of Maryland
Dickinson's poetry is well-loved and highly revered as an important part of American literature and Massachusetts history. Her poems are an important part of any American literature course, and her words have been incorporated into many songs and works of visual art.
As author William Dean Howells said: "
If nothing else had come out of our life but this strange poetry, we should feel that in the work of Emily Dickinson, America, or New England rather, had made a distinctive addition to the literature of the world, and could not be left out of any record of it."
Louisa May Alcott
Little Women, Little Boys
Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals,
1898, available as an e-text.
Louisa May Alcott
grew up in New England receiving her early education from her father's friends, including, Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne and Fuller. As an abolitionist and feminist, Alcott began writing in 1849 and first gained recognition for her work when her letters home during her time served as a civil war nurse were published in the
In 1868 her most famous work
, which is loosely based on her childhood, growing up with three sisters in Concord, was published. The character Jo was based largely off Alcott herself. The second part of her book,
led into its conclusion
The final book in this series
was published in 1886.
Alcott remained an active supporter of women's suffrage, becoming the first women registered to vote in Concord, Mass. Louisa May Alcott died of a stroke in Boston on March 6, 1888. Multiple biographies have been written about her, some going on the win awards.
Labor Activist and Union Leader
Civilization in the Southern Mills (1902)
The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925)
Autobiography of Mother Jones
for an in-depth article on Mother Jones from America's Unions
Jones is best known for her struggles to win decent living and working conditions for the United Mine Workers. She also participated in the
Haymarket Day demonstration
for the eight-hour day movement in Chicago in 1886.
Mother Jones was born in August 1 1837 in Cork, Ireland. In 1861 she got married to George Jones and had four children. Unfortunately she lost her husband and all of her four children to yellow fever epidemic in 1867. After losing her family to the epidemic, she moved to Chicago where she became a dress maker. In 1871, she lost her house, shop and belongings in
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871
Mother Jones involvement in the labor movement was after the loss of her entire family. Mother Jones felt that the cause of poverty was known and she wanted to combat the exploitation of laborers and improve it. In 1890, the United Mine Workers started using strategies such as striking and confronting employers to ensure that the workers' needs were met. UMW had its first victory was strike in 1897 in
which included mines in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. Facing a pay cut, thousands of miners walked out of work. UMW efforts were successful, and the miners eventually won the right to a pay raise.
For more, see
United States History II.5
of the Standard Oil Company
Selection from The History of the Standard Oil Company
installments published in McClure's Magazine
between 1902 and 1904
grew up in a rural Pennsylvania town in 1857. After trying teaching she became a writer, traveling to France to write a biography on Madam Roland. She then caught the eye of Samuel Sidney McClure, founder of
, who hired her as an editor.
She quickly became one of McClure's most popular editors and journalists. She gained fame for her 19 part exposé of John Rockefeller and Standard Oil entitled
The History of the Standard Oil Company.
The work revolutionized American journalism. Never before had an individual researched a topic so throughly and presented it in a format accessible to the public at large.
In detailing the rise of Rockefeller and Standard Oil Tarbell did not shy away from reporting the manipulation of both employees and laws used by Rockefeller to create his oil monopoly. Neither did she neglect reporting the excesses enjoyed by Rockefeller as one of the countries richest and most powerful men despite the fact she published her report while Rockefeller was still alive. I
The History of Standard Oil
was ranked 5th among the top 100 works of journalism in the 20th century.
For more, see
United States History II.8
Carrie Chapman Catt
She was the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association after Susan B Anthony.
Catt later helped create the League of Women Voters.
Prominent leader of women's suffrage movement. Served as part of Women's Christian Temperance Union and later served as president of National American Women's Suffrage Union.
Catt supervised dozens of campaigns, mobilized numerous volunteers (1 million by the end), and made hundreds of speeches.
Helped found the International Women's Suffrage Alliance and later ran for President of the United States as a part of the Commonwealth Land Party.
Video about Carrie Chapman Catt -
For more, see
AP United States History 17
She landed a starring role in Buffalo Bill's Wild West, which made her America's first female superstar.
has a documentary and other sources concerning Oakley.
for more on the history of the American west after the Civil War
Annie Oakley was originally born Phoebe Ann Moses in Ohio. She is one of the most famous sharpshooters in history. She grew up extremely poor and was "bound out" to a neighborhood family that emotionally and physically abused her. To help pay for her family's survival, she learned how to be a hunter and trapper starting at age 8. She was so successful that she was able to pay off the mortgage of her mother's house by age 15.
After being discovered for her shooting talent, she joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, becoming a superstar. She performed in Europe over the years for a variety of kings and queens. Over the course of her career, she taught about 15,000 women how to use a gun, a skill she believed every woman should have.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Yellow Wall-Paper
An author and advocator for reform and women's rights. Represented California in the 1896 Suffrage Convention in Washington, D.C. as well as theInternational Socialist and Labor Congress which was held in England.
Gilman wrote her most famous work, The Yellow Wallpaper, to change people's minds about the role of women in society, illustrating how women's lack of autonomy is detrimental to their mental, emotional, and even physical wellbeing.
Pioneer Social Worker, Feminist, Author
Founder of the Hull House and winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Click here for
classroom teaching ideas
"Why Women Should Vote"
(1910) with video materials and analysis.
for a short and detailed synopses of Ida B. Well's life.
For more, see
United States History II.8
Jane Addams was born in Illinois in 1860 and graduated the Rockford Female Seminary in 1881. Due to heath complications Addams never went back to school, but chose to travel instead. In 1887 she visited the first settlement house in London, called the Toynbee Hall.
In 1889 Addams confounded the
in Chicago with her college friend as a response to the problems of urbanization and industrialization for poor families. It became a center for the community for educational and charitable initiatives. Was an activist for women's rights before the suffrage movement rose, and believed women should "generate aspirations and search out opportunities to realize them."
As a pacifist, Addams was a member of the Progressive Party and campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt. She was also involved in the Women's Peace Party and elected President of the Women's International Party for Peace in 1915. She was appointed chairman of Chicago's Board of Education and in 1909 she became the first woman president of the National COnference of Charities and Corrections. Opposed to the first World War, she was a peace movement activist and worked with Herbert Hoover in sending aid packages to women and children in enemy countries.
Addams spent much of her later life traveling around the world meeting with diplomats preaching her victorian ideal that women had a special duty to preserve peace. Addams was awarded for her work in 1931 becoming the first American Women to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Jane Addams died on May 21, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois.
For more, see
United States History II.2
Ida B. Wells
Women's rights activist
Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases
A Red Record
Mob Rule in New Orleans
For a lesson plan, see
Before Rosa Parks: Ida B. Wells
First Blind/Deaf person to earn a Bachelor's degree
Champion of women's rights
The Story of My Life.
Keller is the author of 11 other books and several articles, especially those of a political nature.
During her lifetime, Helen Keller became friends with Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, and Alexander Graham Bell, met with several different presidents, and raised money continuously for the American Foundation for the Blind
Helen Keller Biography Page
Following a bad illness (possibly scarlet fever) at 19 months old, Helen Keller lost her hearing and sight. Despite her loss, Helen Keller still managed to communicate and learn languages and the ways of the world through her teacher, Annie Sullivan, who used tactile hand symbols to convey information.
Helen also learned how to speak vocally, which we can see
, using her sense of touch to teach her syllabic sounds. Despite her disability, Helen earned a Bachelor's degree from Radcliffe and went on to write books about her life as well as many political essays.
A radical socialist, pacifist, and suffragist, she was involved in many activist groups, like the Industrial Workers of the World and the Helen Keller International as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, for both of which she was a co-founder.
The HKI specialized in research for vision, showing her to be an inspiration for others with similar disabilities. Keller was also a great supporter of widely-available contraception for women, an anti-war, and anti-Wilson agitator, and a vehement critic of those who would use her disability to discount her political opinions. .
For more, see
United States History II.10
Anarchist Political Activist/Woman's Rights Activist
Founder of the Anarchist Political Movement;
Founder and author of
, and Anarchist Journal;
Participated in Bolshevik Revolution and Spanish Civil War
Emma Goldman, born in Kovno, Russia (present-day Kaunas, Lithuania) in 1869, was an activist, writer, and one of the "founders" of the anarchist political philosophy. Goldman immigrated to America in 1885, where she began to engage in politics. An advocate of controversial topics, such as women's rights and anarchistic thought, Goldman embraced violence and direct riot to enact change. This included an assassination attempt on Henry Clay Frick (an industrialist), resist the Draft in WWI, and disseminate information involving contraceptives and birth control (considered illegal at that time). After numerous stints in prison, Goldman was deported to Russia in 1917. Participating in the Bolshevik Revolution and the Spanish Civil War (on the side of the Anarchists), Goldman died in Toronto Canada.
Goldman's complicated legacy has left her largely absent from the annals of history. While Goldman advocated for women's rights (including contraceptives), marriage, homosexual rights, free speech, and other "modern" progressive causes, her association with violent crimes and riots has complicated the aformentioned achievements.
1st Lady of The World
A human rights activist, international author, speaker, politician and advocate for social change
Wrote the nationally
syndicated column, My Day
Contributed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
She founded United Nations Association of US (1943) to support the formation of the United Nations. She was the only woman delegate chosen by Truman for the UN General Assembly from 1945-1952 and attended the first historical meeting in London in January 1946.
For more on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, see
World History II.29
Eleanor Roosevelt was the 1st lady from 1933 until 1945, when her husband passed away.
Eleanor was the First Lady longer than any other First Lady, serving twelve years, one month, one week and one day.
As First Lady she often held press conferences in the Monroe Room in the White House in which she discussed her daily activities and actions of the Administration. These press conferences were run through the Presidential Press Secretary and sometimes she was given the task of informing the American Public important information before the President.
She actively supported her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, especially on his New Deal policy. After her husband's death she continued to be an international author, speaker, politician and activist for the New Deal Coalition.
President Truman called her the first lady to the world because of her human rights movements. Outside of her activist efforts, she was a mother to six children, but only five survived infancy.
For more, see
United States History II.12
Birth Control Activist
Actively challenged federal and state
to bring birth control information and contraceptives devices to women.
She started her campaign to educate women about sex in 1912 by writing a newspaper column called "What Every Girl Should Know."
The Pill Timeline
Teachers Guides on Teaching Margaret Sanger's History
Primary Sources: Correspondence Between Sanger and McCormick
For more, see
United States History II.27
She was the nurse that promoted birth control as a means of which a woman could exercise control on her life and health.
Her commitment to birth control sprung from personal tragedy. One of eleven children born at age nineteen Margaret watched her mother die of tuberculosis. Just 50 years old, her mother had wasted away from the strain of eleven childbirths and seven miscarriages. Facing her father over her mother's coffin, Margaret lashed out, "You caused this. Mother is dead from having too many children."
In 1914, she coined the term "birth control" and she began giving women health information as well as contraceptives. She was indicted in 1915 for mailing diaphragms and arrested in 1916 for opening the first birth control clinic. This did not deter her,
in 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League, the precursor to the Planned Parenthood Federation.
In 1960, she collaborated with
invented the first FDA approved oral contraceptives.
Successful campaign that led to the passing of the
Alice Paul: Suffragist and Agitator
from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Activist. Alice Paul graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and shortly after her graduation she joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) where she was appointed chairwoman in the congressional committee at Washington D.C.
Paul and her colleagues would go on to form the National Woman's Party (NWP) and began using tactics to acquire their right to vote.
Such tactics included parades, suffrage watch fires, mass meetings, etc.
She was the original author of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
for more on women's efforts to achieve equality.
20th Century Painter
One of the most influentional and prominent 20th Century Painters and recipient of the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Arts.
Her illustrated autobiography, GEORGIA O"KEEFE became a best seller upon its release in 1976. In 1977 she received the Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford and in 1985 she received the Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan. Georgia O'Keefe died in 1986 in New Mexico at the age of 98
Georgia O"Keefe Museum Collections Online: Drawings, Paintings & Sculpture
Georgia O'Keefe was born in Wisconsin in 1887. She attended the Art Institute in Chicago in 1905 and the Art Students League of New York a year later. In 1915 O'Keefe was taking classes at the Teachers College of Columbia University in South Carolina. There, Arthur Dow introduced her to non-European styles of art, leading her to discover new skills.
While teaching in Texas, O'Keefe sent charcoal drawings to a friend in New York. Alfred Steiglitz saw the drawings and put them on exhibit in 1916 at his "291 Gallery". Within two years she was living in New York with Steiglitz. Their collaboration would come to be one of the most well known and successful in the modernist era.
During the 1920s O'Keefe's close up on flowers and cityscapes became some of her most famous work. In 1929 she fell in love with the landscapes of New Mexico while on vacation and returned there every summer to paint. Steiglitz died in 1964 and O'Keefe moved to New Mexico permanently. In 1970 the Whitney Museum of American Art named her one of the most important and influential painters in American History.
Dorothy was once said to be the second most influential woman in America after Eleanor Roosevelt by Time Magazine.
Dorothy Thompson, a prominent journalist, political commentator and a leading opponent of Hitler and 1930s fascism, was born July 9, 1893 in Lancaster, New York.
Most well known for her work during the Great Depression.
Lesson Plan on the Life and Work of Dorothea Lange
from The Photographer as Agricultural Sociologist
Dorothea was born in Hoboken New Jersey in 1895. She studied photography in New York before the outbreak of the First World Word. In 1919 she moved to San Francisco where she worked as a portrait artist for over a decade with her soon-to-be second husband, Paul Taylor.
Lange's work inspired the Farm Security Administration (a product of the New Deal) whom she took pictures for. Her most famous work,
was taken during this time, and the photo inspired twenty thousand pounds of food to be sent to the farm.
She was awarded the Guggenhiem Fellowship for excellence in photography in 1941.
Lange gave up the award in 1942 so she could document the movement of Japanese into interment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor as an employee of the War Relocation Authority. Lange took photographs of men, women, and children from all around the world including Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Lange went on to teach at the California School of Fine Arts and confounded a photographic magazine,
in 1952. Dorothea Lange died from esophageal cancer in 1965. In 2008 she was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
Pearl S. Buck
American Writer, In 1938, She won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her description of peasant life in China and her biographies. She also won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
Buck played a pioneering role in demythologizing China and the Chinese people in the American mind.
Pilot and author
-First woman and second person to fly solo across the Atlantic
-First person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland
-First woman awarded the US Distinguished Flying Cross
-Disappeared while attempting a circumnavigational solo flight in 1937
The Official Website of Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart was born in 1897 in Atchinson, Kansas. Her flying career began in Los Angeles in 1921, when at age 24 she took flying lessons from Neta Snook and bought her first airplane.
In 1932 she became world famous when she became the first woman, and the second person, to fly solo across the Atlantic. She was the first woman to receive the US Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for the Atlantic flight. Earhart also was the first person to fly solo across the Pacific, from Honolulu, HI to Oakland, CA. During an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, she disappeared over the central Pacific.
In addition to her flying, Earhart joined the aviation faculty of Purdue University to act as career counselor and flight enthusiast. Earhart was also a member of the National Woman's Party and an early supporter of the Equal Right's Amendment.
Civil Rights activist;
Women's Rights activist
Click here for a
timeline of her life
Pauli Murray Named to Episcopal Sainthood
She joined the NAACP, organized sit-ins at segregated restaurants in Washington, D.C. and cofounded the Congress of Racial Equality with Bayard Rustin.
She was the first African American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest;
first African American to receive a doctor of juridical science from Yale;
the first African American woman to serve as assistant attorney general in California;
first African American woman to publish a lead article in a law review.
Later in life, she self-identified as a heterosexual man
Incredibly successful musician for 58 years and recipient of the National Medal of Honor.
for more on her life and times
Ella Fitzgerald - Cry Me A River
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (YouTube Playlist)
Ella Fitzgerald was born in Newport News Virginia in 1917 and made her debut as a singer in 1934 at the Apollo Theatre when she was sixteen years old. After performing for a few years at local venues, FItzgerald joined Chick Webb's band.
She began her solo career in the mid 1940s and was extremely successful. As an early "scat" musician Ella recorded with artists such as Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. Fitzgerald continued to perform throughout the 1970s and 1980s and was awarded thirteen Grammy's in her lifetime.
She retired after a successful performance in the UK in 1990 due to her heath. Ronald Reagan awarded her the National Medal of Honor two years later. Ella Fitzgerald died in Beverly Hills on June 15 in 1996 as a result of health problems.
Margaret Chase Smith
United States Senator
Declaration of Conscience Speech
, June 1, 1950 in which she expressed her opposition to the McCarthy anticommunist hearings.
She was a pioneering woman in American politics and an advocate for free speech. Selected most influential citizen of Maine of the 20th century. A postage stamp in her honor was issued in 2007.
Rosie the Riveter
Rosie the Riveter Song
Rosie the Riveter was a fictional character of the perfect working woman. Rosie was loyal, efficient, patriotic and pretty. She became the most iconic image of a working woman during the war. Rosie encouraged many women who normally would not work to going the work force. The female percentage of women in the workforce increased from 27% to 37%.
She represents the huge cultural change that was happening in the workforce. Usually, poor and underclass women worked, but now all different types of women began joining the work force. They faced attitude of men who were not ready for them to be in the workforce and a society who saw this as a temporary change.
After the war, things went back to "normal", but society and women had changed. They were ready to start off in a new direction away from traditional women's views.
All-American Girls Professional
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
, from All American Girls Professional Baseball League, "Rockford Peaches 1943".
Civil Rights Activist
Rosa Parks: My Story, Quiet Strength
allowed students to interview Rosa parks in 1997, and this is the
of that interview.
of Rosa Parks' life and achievements
Rosa Parks: How I Fought for Civil Rights
Rosa Parks played a most important role in the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery, Alabama by refusing to give up her seat to a white patron on a bus.
In December, 1955, Rosa refused to move to the back of the bus when it became crowded. She was arrested and fined for her actions.
The act prompted the Montgomery NAACP to found the Montgomery Improvement Association, headed by Martin Luther King. They also began a 382 day boycott of the Montgomery Transit Systems, one of the longest and most successful in US history.
In part because of her actions, the Supreme Court to outlaw segregation of transit systems in 1956. She has received the highest civilian honors from the Executive and Legislative branches.
For more, see
United States History II.25
The Sea Trilogies
The Sea Around Us
Under the Wind Sea
The Edge of the Sea
Carson started of as a marine biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. After this she became a full time nature writer, writing three books of her sea trilogy. These books were widely popular however it would be her next book where she would really make her impact.
In 1962, after four years of meticulous research, Carson wrote a book called
's main argument was that synthetic pesticides were being overused and that some, most infamously DDT, were actually very harmful to humans and animals despite insurances that they were not.
The backlash from chemical companies was strong, and Presidents Kennedy asked his science committee to research the book's findings. The committee vindicated Carson's research.
gave credence to the global environmental movement, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and led to the ban of DDT and other chemicals.
Pilot, Civil Rights Activist
First African American Female Pilot
was the first African American woman pilot and the first African American to receive an International Pilot's License. Due to racism and sexism in the United States, she went to Paris to learn how to fly. She began a career as a stunt pilot to make a living for herself. She performed airshows around the country, only performing for desegregated crowds.
Coleman lives on as an inspiration to both African Americans and women. Her legacy lives on through postage stamps, air clubs named in her honor, and "Bessie Coleman Drive" at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Dr. Maya Angelou
Writer, poet, activist, educator
NAACP Award winner, Pulitzer Prize nominee, Tony Award winner, Emmy Award winner, Grammy award winner first female African American cable-car operator, first African American woman to have a screenplay produced, writer of acclaimed book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Dancer, singer. Member of the Harlem Writer's Guild.
of Angelou performing her poem "Still I Rise." Poem begins at 5:23, but the whole speech is wonderful.
tells a story about meeting and talking to Tupac Shakur as a young man, and the effect she had on him.
Born Marguerite Johnson in St Louis, Missouri, Dr Angelou was raised by her grandmother in racially-segregated and brutal Stamps, Arkansas. Her mother's boyfriend sexually molested Angelou at the age of seven, and after her abuser turned up dead, Angelou stopped speaking for over five years.
Overcoming her trauma, Angelou received several scholarships for dance and drama in San Francisco. Upon becoming pregnant in her senior year, Angelou dropped out and supported her son single-handedly until she began a career as a singer and actress, eventually winning a Tony Award for her performance in
in 1973, and an Emmy for her work in
On the suggestion of a friend, Angelou began to write about her life experiences, and
Angelou joined the Harlem Writer's Guild, channeling her childhood experiences and her political philosophies into her poetry. Angelou wrote the critically acclaimed
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
in 1970. Bill Clinton asked Angelou to write a poem for his inauguration in 1993.
Angelou studied and taught in several different universities across the world. She has devoted her life to fighting and speaking for racial equality through her oration and her writing.
Congresswoman and Civil Rights Activist
First southern black female elected to Congress
Keynote Speech to the Democratic National Convention, July 12, 1976
This speech has been ranked as one of most important political speeches of the 20th century.
Statement on the Articles of Impeachment, July 1974
Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman from the South to be elected to the House of Representatives, after becoming the first woman elected to the Texas Senate. She was known for her powerful public oratory skills, which played a large part in the impeachment trial of Richard Nixon. Her work in Congress resulted in greater rights for women, people of color and linguistic minorities.
Civil Rights Activist
Ruby Bridges was the first black student at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960. She never missed a day of instruction, even when faced with segregationists picketing the school's doors day after day.
She has been awarded the President's Citizens Medal, was the subject of a biopic, had books written about her, and is the chairwoman of the Ruby Bridges Foundation. This Foundation aspires young people to promote social justice and eliminate inequality. "R
acism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it."
American chef, author and TV personality
Star of the
The French Chef
and coauthor of the cookbook
Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Make an omelet with Julia Child
In 2002 the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History opened an
exhibit featuring the kitchen
where she filmed three of her popular TV shows
Julia Child was born in 1912 in Pasadena California. She lived a privileged childhood and attended Smith college aspiring to be a writer. In 1941 she moved to Washington DC to volunteer for the newly formed OSS, a position that enabled her to travel the world and meet her future husband, Paul, whom she married at the end of World War II. In 1948 Julia and her family moved to France because of Paul's new job at the US embassy in Paris. There she completed a six month program at the legendary Cordon Bleu cooking school. She and two of her peers wrote the cookbook
Mastering the Art of French Cooking
which was published in 1961.
The book quickly became a best seller and standard in the culinary world. Her cooking show
The French Chef
premiered on WGBH in 1962 and went on to win an Emmy in 1966. Julia also starred in
Julia Child and Company
Julia Child and More Company
Dinner at Julia's
(1983) and went on to write
In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs
Baking with Julia
Julia's Delicious Little Dinners
Julia's Casual Dinners
Julia was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame in 1993 and received France's highest honor, the Legion d'Honneur in 2000. Julia child died in 2004 of kidney failure.
A writer, activist and feminist.
For more, see
Books as Bombs: Why the Women's Movement Needed The Feminine Mystique
by Louis Menard,
The New Yorker
Betty Friedan was a leading figure in the Women's movement. Her book "The Feminine Mystique" is said to spark the second wave of American Feminism.
She founded the National Organization for Women, which aimed towards bringing equality to women in the American socety.
Throughout her life, Friedan fought for the equality of women in American society.
For more, see
United States History II.27
The invention of the compiler, the intermediate program that translates English language instructions into the language of the target computer.
Grace Hopper Historical Biography page
Grace Hopper was commissioned as Navy lieutenant in July 1944 and reported to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, where she was the third person to join the research team of professor Howard H. Aiken.
She recalled that he greeted her with the words, "Where the hell have you been?" and pointed to his electromechanical Mark I computing machine, saying "Here, compute the coefficients of the arc tangent series by next Thursday."
Hopper plunged in and learned to program the machine, putting together a 500-page Manual of Operations for the Automatic Sequence-Controlled Calculator in which she outlined the fundamental operating principles of computing machines. By the end of World War II in 1945, Hopper was working on the Mark II version of the machine.
Feminist, Journalist and Political Activist
by Gloria Steinem
A leading figure and spokeswoman of the Women's Liberation Movement in the late 1960s and 1970s.
She cofounded Ms. magazine and wrote an article titled
After Black Power, Women's Liberation"
which skyrocketed her to fame as a leading figure in the Feminist movement.
In 2005, Steinem along with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan co-founded the Women's Media Center. This organization works to give women a voice in the media. Today, she serves on the board of the Women's Media Center.
Billie Jean King
Former Professional Tennis Player
An advocate against sexism in sports and society.
Secretary of State
First women to be elected secretary of state
Madeleine Albright Interview
Albright on U.S. Responsibility to
Was voted in as secretary of state in 1996 receiving all 99 votes. She is also director of the board of council of foreign relations.
Albright was the Clinton administration's Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1992-1996, until her appointment to be head of the State Department in 1996. She served as Secretary of State from 1996-2001. Albright served in the Clinton Cabinet during the crises in Rwanda and Bosnia, as well as the renewed bombing campaign against Iraq in 1998.
Politics and Presidential Candidate
First Black Congresswoman in US House of Representatives
I Am for the Equal Rights Amendment
" speech, August 10, 1970
Shirley Chisholm Declares Presidential Bid
, January 25, 1972
Shirley Chisholm was the first black Congresswomen in the US House of Representatives in 1969.
She served for seven terms and was on many influential committees including Veterans' Affairs, Labor, and Education.
In 1972, Chisholm ran for the Democratic Presidential Nomination; she was the first black women to do so.
She did not seek re-election in 1983. Instead she taught at Mount Holyoke College. She passed away on January 1, 2005.
For more, see
United States History II.26
Journalist and Television Personality
Sandra Day O'Connor
Former Supreme Court Justice
The first woman Supreme Court Justice
For background, see
Cases in Which Sandra Day O'Connor Cast the Decisive Vote
from the ACLU
Supreme Court Says Court Can Review Bush Administration Actions in Terrorism Fight
She served as a Supreme Court Justice from 1981 - 2006. Upon her appointment to the bench by President Reagan, she became the first woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court.
Throughout her earlier career she held a variety of legal positions. She studied law at Stanford University and then as a deputy County Attorney in California. Then, while her husband was stationed in Europe during his time in the military, she served as a civilian lawyer for the Quartermaster Corps in Frankfurt, Germany.
When she returned she was rejected from several Arizona law firms, simply due to the fact that she was a woman. She persevered through this and opened her own, ultimately successful law practice. She went on to become Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arizona , and then served as a state Senator from 1965 - 1975, when she was elected to the Maricopa County Superior Court. Her final stop before the bench of the Supreme Court Judge saw her serve in the Arizona Court of Appeals between 1979 and 1981.
The first women to run as Vice President on a major party ticket
Ferraro hails from New York State and received a law degree from Fordham Law. She began work at the Queens district attorney's office in 1974 and fought against domestic violence and child abuse.
In 1978 Ferraro launched a successful political career when she gained a seat in the US House of Representatives and championed legislation for women's wages and workplace rights. When Walter Mondale won the 1984 Democratic Presidential Nominee, the idea of a female vice president was considered for the first time, and with the support of the National Organization of Women, Mondale choose Ferraro as his running mate. She was both the first women and Italian-American to appear on the ballot for a major party.
The Mondale-Ferraro ticket unfortunately lost in a landslide to incumbent Ronald Reagan. Ferraro would go on to make to unsuccesful runs at the US Senate, and serve as ambassador to the UN's committee on Human Rights. Ferraro assisted Hilary Clinton in her 2008 run for the presidency and is in the National Women's Half Fame.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Lawyer and Supreme Court Justice
For a perspective, listen to a podcast of
Jeffrey Toobin on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
being interviewed on WNYC radio.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Opinions
from the Columbia Law School
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Remarks to the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women
, September 5, 1995
A graduate of Yale Law School, Hillary Clinton followed then boyfriend William Clinton to Arkansas upon her graduation. While there, she taught law at the University of Arkansas, and in 1978 was appointed by President Carter to the board of Legal Services Corporation.
She served as First Lady of Arkansas for 12 years, and First Lady of the United States for 8 years. She headed up the Task Force for National Health Care Reform in 1993 and was US Senator for NY in '00, becoming the first women elected statewide in New York and the first ever First Lady to be elected to the US Senate.
Was defeated in her 2008 Presidential quest in the Democratic Primary by President Barack Obama. On her way however, she received more support and delegates than any other woman in history. Served as Secretary of State under President Obama from January 21, 2009 – February 1, 2013.
Singer, Actress, Businesswoman
Madonna's 40 Biggest Billboard Hits
from Billboard Magazine
Click here for
Madonna's films from the IMDb database
Forbes Magazine Profile of Madonna
For information about Madonna's charitable work
website of the Raising Malawi organization
Madonna Sells Painting of Women for $7.2 million, Proceeds Go to Girls' Charity
Endosymbiotic Theory / Gaia Hypothesis
National Security Adviser
66th United States Secretary of State
grew up in the deeply segregated Birmingham, Alabama. Her family later settled in Denver Colorado where she completed her last year of high school and her first year at the University of Denver simultaneously where she eventually obtained her undergraduate and doctorate degree.
Stanford University offered her a fellowship to its Center for International Security and Arms Control, making her the only woman ever offered this fellowship. Stanford hired her as a political science professor in 1982 and she received tenure in 1987.
In 1988, Rice was hired to serve as a staff member on the National Security Council under George H.W. Bush. During his term in office, Rice was promoted to one of his special assistants, serving as his expert on Soviet and Eastern European affairs.
Rice resigned from the position on 1991 and returned to teaching at Stanford and in 1993 she became the university's first female provost. She was also the first African American elected to the position.
In 1999, Rice left her job as provost to head George W. Bush's team of foreign policy advisers on his election team. When George W. Bush won the presidential election, Rice was elected to serve as national security adviser. She was the first woman to serve in the position. After Colin Powell stepped down, she served as the 66th United States Secretary of State.
Lawyer and Supreme Court Justice
For an overview of her life, see the
White House Press Release on her nomination to the Supreme Court
. May 26, 2009.
A Conversation with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
from the Diane Rehm Show, January 30, 2013
First Hispanic Justice on the US Supreme Court. She is also the Court's third female Justice.
Author, Editor, Professor
Writer of novels such as
Song of Solomon
Writer of Pulitzer Prize winning 1987 novel
, also wrote numerous other well regarded works, and is still active on the lecturing circuit and has established writing fellowships at numerous universities and colleges. Considered one of the most influential American writers of the twentieth century.
Winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, along with the Pulitzer win and countless other awards.
Equal Rights Amendment. Pink=Ratified; Yelllow=Ratified, then rescinded; Green=Ratified in one house of legislature; Blue=Not Ratified
Additional Resources On Influential American Women
Discovering American Women's History Online
Women in the Senate
National Women's Hall of Fame
Important Dates in U.S. Women's History
Milestones in U.S. Women's History
Phenomenal Women of the 20th Century
All images from
unless otherwise noted. If no image is provided, none was found in the public domain.
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