14 Inspirational Women Who Made American History

on July 23, 2015


Amelia Earhart

In honor of Amelia Earhart Day on July 24th, we honor great women in history for their parts in changing the world. To begin, let's celebrate one of America's most inspiring pioneers of aviation: Earhart herself. Known as the first female aviator to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a solo trip in 1928, she was also the 16th woman to be issued a pilot's license. Her admiration for aviation came from her involvement in the Red Cross as a nurse's aid, where she gained firsthand experience with WWI pilots. After her first passenger flight across the Atlantic, she was named "Lady Lindy" after Charles Lindbergh and was deemed a celebrity. However, Earhart wanted more. This initial flight inspired her to take her solo trip and eventually try to circumnavigate the globe, the trip in which she disappeared forever. Although her death is a mystery, her spirit and influences are still admired today.

See more here.

H. B. Lindsley | commons.wikimedia.org

Harriet Tubman

Known as the conductor of the Underground Railroad that led hundreds of slaves to freedom, Harriet Tubman was a leading abolitionist and escaped slave, whose story makes her a truly iconic figure. After escaping slavery in 1849, Tubman made it her goal to successfully rescue her family and other slaves during a time when it was legal for people to return escaped slaves back to their owners. During the Civil War, she worked for the Union as a cook and nurse and later a spy. According to this site, she was "the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war" by assisting the Combahee River Raid, which freed over 700 slaves. We honor and remember her today for her immense bravery and strength.


Victoria Woodhull

The lesser-known Victoria Woodhull made history by being the first woman to run for president of the United States in the year 1872. As an activist, politician, and author, she and her sister published the radical journal of social reform Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, which discussed issues of women's suffrage, birth control and the movement surrounding the rejection of marriage called "free love." Her movement as a suffragette led her to address Congress and create the Equal Rights Party, which instigated her presidential campaign. She's an inspirational free thinker who deserves to be recognized for her progressive crusade for issues that are hotly debated to this day.

Learn more about her here.

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony

Also in the women's suffrage movement vein, we honor Stanton and Anthony together as the collective powerhouse of this movement. Having met at an anti-slavery conference, the two actively fought the abolition of slavery and worked to support the temperance movement. Known as two of our nation's leading ladies of feminism, they helped to establish the National American Woman Suffrage Association, of which both were president for a period of time. During the famous Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, Stanton wrote the "Declaration of Sentiments," which proposed the right to vote for women. As for Anthony, she fought at an old age for women's suffrage and met with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 calling for constitutional reform. Both are remarkable women of our history for initiating what eventually became the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which allows women today to partake in democracy.

More info on Stanton and Anthony.


Edith Wharton

In the literary sphere of American history, we have renowned novelist Edith Wharton, who won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her book The Age of Innocence. She became the first woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize, making huge strides for women in the field of literature. She is best known for her book Ethan Frome, a darling of high school English teachers. She wrote over 40 books in 40 years and won several awards. Wharton is remembered today as one of America's greatest novelists of the twentieth century.

More info here.

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Frances Perkins

Born in 1882 in Boston, Frances Perkins became the first female member of the presidential cabinet under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and worked with him on programs for the New Deal during the Depression. Previously, she graduated from Mount Holyoke College and became a social worker, investing her time in reforms for labor conditions. She continued her studies at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree in sociology. As head of the New York Consumers League, Perkins witnessed the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, in which more than 100 workers died. This incident caused her to lobby for social reform in the workforce and spurred governor FDR to appoint her as the state's labor commissioner. As part of the President's Committee on Economic Security, Perkins pushed for minimum wage laws and the Social Security system. Later, she joined the U.S. Civil Service Commission and taught higher education.

Cited from here.

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Wilma Rudolph

Our nation's first female triple gold medalist in a single Olympic Games, Wilma Rudolph, did not start out a star athlete. In fact, she was born premature and sickly to the point doctors believed that she would never walk again. She battled polio as a child, resulting in problems in her left leg that caused her to wear a brace, yet she was determined to overcome her illness and physical disability. Rudolph's life changed when she began to play basketball in high school and became an exceptional runner. At age 16, the youngest member of the U.S. team, she competed in the 1956 Olympics and won a bronze medal. After enrolling in Tennessee State University and training for track and field, she was ready to compete in the 1960s Olympics in Rome, Italy, where she made her debut as a star sprinter and won three gold medals. For her groundbreaking achievements, she was awarded Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year Award twice along with several other honors. Rudolph eventually retired to become a teacher and coach to inspire generations after her. She is lauded today in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and her legacy continues with her Wilma Rudolph Foundation, which advocates for amateur athletes.

More info here.

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Muriel u201cMickieu201d Siebert

In 1967, Wall Street legend Muriel "Mickie" Siebert became the first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. In the male-dominated world of finance, she broke down barriers fighting for equality on Wall Street, dismantling discriminatory features of the business. Siebert was paid less than men in her field, people declined her resume unless it featured her initials with no indication of gender and banks refused to give her a loan. The first nine men she asked to sponsor her declined. Siebert was quoted in NY Times, "For 10 years, it was 1,365 men and me." She became the first woman to head a New York Stock Exchange member firm, Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc., and was appointed the Superintendent of Banks for the State of New York. A brash, determined, smart and strong woman, her legacy paves the way for women in the world of finance today.

More about her here.


Dr. Virginia Apgar

A pioneer in the field of neonatology, Virginia Apgar, M.D., was the first woman to become a full-time professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and helped revolutionize the study of newborns. She graduated from Mt. Holyoke and continued her education at Columbia, where she won a surgical internship after graduating fourth in her class. Apgar was often discouraged for wanting to be a surgeon, so instead she entered the field of anesthesiology. Although less respected and underdeveloped at the time, this career shift changed everything for Apgar as she transformed the field.


Today, she is noted as creator of the Apgar Score, a system that determines a newborn's well-being and transition into life outside the womb. Apgar researched the effects of anesthetics in obstetrics and how it affected the baby's health conditions, as well as congenital birth defects. For changing anesthesiology and neonatology as we know it, Apgar is recognized as a leading woman of science.

More info here.


Sandra Day O'Connor

Sandra Day O'Connor served two terms as Arizona state senator and went on to become the first woman appointed as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981. She graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics and finished law school there in 1952. During a time when female lawyers were sparse, she made her way working for free and searching for opportunities and eventually made it to the top. While on the Supreme Court, O'Connor had a firm, yet fair, hand in her work as a moderate conservative justice and helped determine the outcome of several deciding and controversial cases like Bush v. Gore and Roe v. Wade. In 2009, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom--just one of her many accomplishments. Now retired, she lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and we honor her as a hugely important woman in our country's legal sphere.

More info here.

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Georgia O'Keeffe

One of the most influential modernist painters of the 20th century, Georgia O'Keeffe is known for her vibrant abstractionist and pictorial style of painting. According to this site, "the style she used stressed contours and subtle tonal transitions, which often transformed the subject into a powerful abstract image." O'Keeffe's most recognized subject matter is that of large-scale flora, as she often painted flowers up close and focused into the center, and that of landscapes at Ghost Ranch, a place she often visited in New Mexico. Because of the subjects she painted, several feminists took her work as female iconography and interpreted Freudian aspects, which she denied. Today, O'Keeffe is recognized at the "mother of American modernism" and is considered a revolutionary artistic legend.


Zora Neale Hurston

Born in 1891, Zora Neale Hurston became one of the greatest African American fiction novelists of our time. She grew up in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance and became friends with the famous Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. She later attended Barnard College to study anthropology, started publishing African American folk tales, and began her writing career. After the start of her writing career, she eventually received a Guggenheim fellowship, which led her to produce her most famous work Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston's works were revived in 1975 when Alice Walker of Ms. magazine reintroduced her to the world in one of her articles, which resulted in her works being newly published and renewed in the public eye. Today, she is recognized as a civil rights activist, anthropologist, and famous author.

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Dr. Grace Murray Hopper

Another female first of the United States includes Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, who changed computer science forever as leader of "the team that created the first computer language compiler, which led to the popular COBOL language." During WWII, she joined the U.S. Navy, was commissioned as a lieutenant, and worked to program Mark I computer. (Fun fact: during her work at Harvard as a computer software programmer, she discovered a moth had shorted out one of their computers, which helped to popularize the term "computer bug.") As the first female to receive the honor of the National Medal of Technology in 1991, Hopper is renowned for helping standardize computer communication.

More info here.

AP Photo/Press-Register, John David Mercer

Maya Angelou

Finally, we recognize the recently deceased legend Maya Angelou. The award-winning poet and author is best known for her critically-acclaimed 1969 memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, "which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman." Although most recognized as an author and poet, she was also an actress, screenwriter and dancer. She was nominated for awards including a Tony, a Pulitzer Prize and an Emmy and became the first African-American woman to have a screenplay produced with Georgia, Georgia. Angelou was a groundbreaking advocate in artistic, educational, and social reforms. Her memoir stayed on the New York Times' best-seller list in nonfiction for two years, the longest a book has ever remained on that list. Angelou said in her memoir, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." We will never forget her ever-influencing story.

More info here.