Behind every great country is a great woman. That's how the saying goes, right? No matter their status, voting rights, or economic situation, women in America have always been working hard to slowly change the world around them. But not all those who break down barriers become infamous. The power of these iconic American women is not in their name, but in what they did to inspire the next generation of achievement in America. See if you know any of these exemplary American women who carved out their place in history.
Toni Stone was one of three African American women to break the gender barrier in professional baseball. Stone became a player in the West Coast Negro League in 1945 and made history when she was traded to the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953 and became a regular player.
Stone was always aware of the hurdles she would face. She began lying about her age to seem younger to the leagues because the men in the leagues distrusted her skills, and even her husband didn't want her to play. Despite the hurdles, her career was impressive. She even holds a hit against legendary pitcher Satchel Paige.
Sally Ride was a physicist-turned-astronaut who became the first American woman in space in 1983, and the third woman in space ever. NASA had begun a female astronaut program in the 1960s but it was subsequently shut down.
Ride's gender was a topic of discussion for many in America at the time. Before her flight, she received questions like, "Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?" and "Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?" She disregarded all and insisted she was an astronaut, just like the rest of the crew. Ride played a vital role in working on NASA's robotic arm.
Many of us actually have heard of Sarah Breedlove, or should we say, Madam C.J. Walker. Breedlove became well known by her married name after marketing a line of beauty and hair products for black women. She learned many tips and trade skills by her brothers, who were barbers. Breedlove not only sold her line of products, but would also show women how to create and run their own businesses, and become financially independent.
Her hard work paid off when she is commonly known to be "the world's most successful female entrepreneur of her time" and the first female self-made millionaire in America.
Margaret Sanger was a nurse and activist who first popularized the term "birth control." She believed that an informed woman would be able to best make their own choices. Sanger's passion for the issue began during her time spent with working-class immigrants who underwent frequent miscarriages and self-induced abortions because they lacked information on how to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
She opened the first clinic that distributed birth control, which would eventually evolve into Planned Parenthood, and spent much of her time distributing leaflets and information on reproduction. While the authorities tried numerous times to prosecute and arrest her, they didn't stop her from paving the way for women's rights in America.
The Sacred Twenty
The Sacred Twenty was a group of twenty female nurses who, in 1908, were the first women to officially serve in the United States Navy as part of the Nurse Corps. While the Army Nurse Corps had already existed, and nurses had played a large role in the Civil War, the Navy had long been seen as the most male-dominated.
The Navy had been initially worried that female nurses may distract male patients (who cares when they are saving their life though), but The Sacred Twenty meant business. They not only performed nursing duties, but they also provided education for other nursing programs abroad.
Gibson was both a professional tennis and golfer who is often compared to Jackie Robinson in breaking down the color barrier in sports. In 1956, Gibson became the first African American woman to win a Grand Slam title in tennis. The U.S. Government recognized her value and in the midst of heightened race relations, sent her on a six-week goodwill tour of Asia.
Robert Ryland, the former coach of current African American tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, stated that Gibson was one of the greatest players who ever lived, and could probably beat the Williams sisters.
Annie Dodge Wauneka
Born in 1910, Annie Dodge Wauneka would go on to be the first Native American to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work in education and healthcare. Wauneka was born into the Navajo community and became passionate about Native American healthcare after experiencing an outbreak of the Spanish Flu during her first year of school.
Wauneka's passion for Navajo health care wouldn't be stopped. She was appointed the head of the Tribal Council's Health and Welfare Committee, even defeating her husband for the position after she ran against him because she believed he was not a good candidate.
Katharine Graham has been a well-known powerhouse in the publishing world, but only until the recent release of the Steven Spielberg blockbuster film, The Post, did she become a household name. Graham's became the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, The Washington Post.
Graham's father owned the newspaper and initially passed the paper down to his son-in-law, and Graham didn't feel slighted by it at all. Following her husband's death, Graham became the sole publisher. She transformed the newspaper from a small, independent paper, to a publically traded, Fortune 500 company.
On November 14, 2008, Ann Dunwoody became the first female to hold a four-star officer rank, the most senior ranking available. Dunwoody was born into a long-standing military family. She originally believed she would only do two years of service, but quickly realized it was the place for her.
Many have regarded Dunwoody as the best logistician the Army has seen, as she was responsible for over $70 billion in service contracts. During her service, she was also a strong advocate for decreasing sexual assault and removing the stigma around reporting sexual assault in the military.
Women Of The War Effort
When mention of women during WW2 comes up, many of us think of Rosie The Riveter and are blind to the real-life Riveters behind that cultural icon. During WW2, nearly 20 million women eagerly joining the workforce. The Women of the War Effort remind us all of what can do when women organize together to achieve their goals.
Many women would move into apartments and homes together with their families to help support one another. They would take opposite shifts in factories so that one could be babysitting while the other worked. While the men worried if women could remain competent moms while working, the Woman of the War Effort showed them that they could do it all with each other's support.
Shirley Black, or should we say, Shirley Temple, was a pioneer in taking their entertainment platform and using it for good. Black skyrocketed into the hearts of the American people at the age of 3, but after only a short career, retired from the films at age 22. Wanting to distance herself from a profession many people at the time believed to be mindless, she became politically active in the Republican party, but failed to win any election races she entered.
Despite this failure, she began her service as a delegate and ambassador after legendary political strategist Henry Kissinger overheard her speaking about South West Africa and was impressed by her knowledge. She was appointed the ambassador to Ghana in 1974 and Czechoslovakia in 1989.
In the fashion of any good female trailblazer, many historians still argue over her. Victoria Woodhull is known as the first female to run for President of the United States. She ran for President in 1872 under the Equal Rights Party, but the constitutionally mandated age for the Presidency is 35, and she was only 34 at the time.
Whether or not her candidacy was valid, she would continue to break down barriers for women. She advocated for "free love" which to her meant the right to marry, divorce, and bear children without government interference. She was also the first woman to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street, and among the first women to found a newspaper.
Jeannette Rankin holds the prestigious title as the first woman to hold federal office in the United States. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1916 and in 1940. Conveniently, both of those terms coincided with the United States entering into the two World Wars. Rankin was a lifelong pacifist who stood her ground in both terms, opposing the declaration of war in 1917, and being the only vote in Congress against declaring war on Japan.
Rankin's political career helped advance the many social causes for women. She always said that her proudest moment was being the only female in Congress who was able to vote for the 19th amendment, giving all women the right to vote and one day hold the same position she did.
Ellen Church pioneered the use of flight attendants on commercial airlines. Church herself was both a pilot and a registered nurse. She applied to be a pilot for Boeing Air Transport and they refused her application. In reaction to his, Church suggested having in-air nurses on flights. In 1930, they took her suggestion and hired her as the first airline stewardess.
While many have lashed out at the industry for their archaic rules surrounding women, particularly the "sexy stewardess" image that developed in the 60's and 70's, Church intended the position to be a way for registered nurses an independent, unmarried, women to make a living.
Helen Magill paved the way for women to receive one of the highest educational honors readily available to the public. Magill earned her P.h.D. in Greek in 1877 from Boston University, making her the first American female to do so.
Magill was used to being a female trailblazer in the education system. She was the only female student at her public school, and she was one of five women in her undergraduate class. She went on to hold various teaching posts, including being the principal for a private school in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Known as the "mother of social work" Jane Addams' career culminated in her becoming the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams was hailed as one of the biggest reformers of the Progressive Era in America. She advocated for many basic social services we take granted for today such as public sanitation and schooling for children.
She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her continued belief in using peaceful practices instead of war. Not only just a peace activist, she believed in civil liberties for all Americans, co-founding the ACLU in 1920.
One of the leading "muckrakers" in American history, Ida Tarbell pioneered investigative journalism with her 1904 book, The History of the Standard Oil Company. The book was listed number 5 in the top 100 works of 20th-century journalism. Not only was Tarbell taking on a major oil corporation, she was taking on one of the most powerful businessmen in the country at the time, John D. Rockefeller.
Her work completely changed how journalists reported on companies and exercised their first amendment rights. While gender was an obstacle, many have noted her biggest struggle was that she was the first to use corporate and historical documents in the craft or journalism. This next woman became a trailblazer accidentally, by being in the right place at the right time.
The 1900 Paris Summer Olympics was a momentous occasion for women breaking down barriers in sport. Swiss sailor Helene de Pourtales was the first female ever to win an Olympic event, and American Margaret Abbott was not far behind. She won the women's golf tournament with a score of 47 (it only consisted of 9 holes at the time).
Abbott's place in history was not expected. She was not even a part of the women's Olympic team, and only competed because she was already in France and happened to play golf.
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First Lady's are often influential in American politics and culture, but none as great as Abigail Adams, wife of Founding Father John Adams. Abigail and John would often discuss politics at length, and John admitted to going to his wife for advice on all aspects of political, social, and economic issues.
Abigail advocated for women's property rights and believed that slavery was a threat to the democracy they were building in America. Known sometimes as herself being a Founder of the United States, Abigail Adams embodies the idea that behind both every great country and every great man, there is a woman.
In 2015, Sarah Thomas was hired as the first full-time female official in the NFL. Thomas began officiating in 1996 and never looked back. In a sport that is so heavily dominated by males, Thomas drew on her guts and composure to keep her cool and follow her dream career path.
When asked if Thomas's presence was distracting — even though no one's questioning if the cheerleaders are distracting — running back Martin Ward said, "Once the game started, she was just doing the job that the line judge does in every game we play. It didn't matter that she was a woman at all."