March is Women’s History Month. There are hundreds of women who helped shape our great country. I have only chosen a few to discuss. Why did I choose these? No particular reason except that while on our travels to Philadelphia and Washington, DC, I recall mention of several of these women. Does that mean they are any more special than ones I did not mention? Not at all. There are just too many to mention here. With that said, I challenge you to post the names of other women in American history you feel should be here. Don’t just give me her name – tell me one important fact about that woman.
Pocahantas – 1595-1617 – She was the daughter of Powhatan, the chief of 30 tribes in the Chesapeake Bay area. Legend has it she saved the life of John Smith by throwing herself over him before her father killed him. The truth is she visited the Jamestown colony many times during those first years. She helped save the colony by teaching the colonists how to survive in this new world. She taught John Smith her language so he could converse with the other natives. At one point, she was held hostage by Captain Argall on his ship. While there she learned to speak English and became a Christian. Later she married John Rolfe, a tobacco planter and traveled to England. While in London, she wore English clothes and even met the King and Queen in 1617. She longed to return to Jamestown and her family, but she got sick and died before she could return.
Abigail Adams – 1744-1818 – Many know her as the wife of President John Adams, but she was much more than that. She was the first advocate for women’s rights. She wrote to her husband in one of their many letters “Remember the ladies . . . we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” She was a self-educated woman who was born into a wealthy Weymouth, Massachusetts family. She learned to speak French and read Shakespeare as a child. When her husband was the United States Commissioner to Paris, she traveled with him, bringing along several of their children. One of those children later became our sixth president – John Quincy Adams.
Susan B. Anthony – 1820-1906 – Many say she is responsible for the 19th Amendment – the woman’s right to vote. She was born in Adams, Massachusetts and was educated in private boarding schools. Her father encouraged her to fight against slavery and the sale of alcohol. In 1846 she became the headmistress of Female Departments at the Canajohare Academy in New York. Many women pushed to ban alcohol because they saw firsthand what it did to their husbands, brothers, and fathers. She became part of the Temperance Movement. In 1850 she met Lucy Stone who was an abolitionist. She was introduced to Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851. In 1860 she helped convince the courts to recognize women had the right to own property and to sue in court. In 1869 she met Lucretia Mott and helped form the National Woman Suffrage Association. She tried to vote as a US citizen but was arrested and fined $100. She refused to pay the fine, but regrettably, she did not get to see women get the right to vote. The amendment was not passed until 1920, nearly 14 years after her death.
Mary Lyon – 1797-1849 – She started the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary on November 8, 1837. This was the first all female college in America. Before she did this, she was a teacher at the Ipswich Female Seminary in 1828. Most of the women could only attend the school if the men in their lives felt they should be educated. She started her own school in 1834 to give women the chance to become teachers. She charged low tuition and allowed the women to cook and clean to keep the costs down. She managed to raise $27,000 to help start her school. The courses included French, music, grammar, algebra, ancient and modern history, philosophy, and science. She even had one of the first science labs.
Sacajawea – 1787-1812 – On April 12, 1802, she traveled with her baby and husband on the Lewis and Clark expedition to discover the western ocean. She was a member of the Lemhi band of the Shoshone tribe. She was only 13 years old when she was captured and sold to a fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. He was hired by Lewis and Clark to act as an interpreter for the journey and she came along to speak to the Shoshone. She helped negotiate passage through many areas with the native tribes. She was able to show the travelers edible foods and introduce them to friendly natives. She even convinced her brother, the chief of a Shoshone tribe to give them horses and a guide to help them down the Columbia River. In 1806 she returned to North Dakota with her husband.
Harriet Tubman – 1820-1913 – She was born a slave on a Maryland plantation. When she was only 13, her master struck her on the head, cracking her skull open. She suffered from blackouts for the rest of her life. In 1849, she escaped from slavery and traveled to Philadelphia where she worked in a hotel. While there she became a conductor for the Underground Railroad (which as we all know now was not really a railroad at all). The Underground Railroad was run by white and black abolitionists and was started in 1838. She managed to save more than 300 slaves, bringing them to freedom. Of those she saved, she brought out her brothers, sisters, and parents. At one time, there was a $40,000 reward for her capture and death. During the Civil War she worked as a cook, a nurse, and a spy. She crossed into the Confederacy and spoke to other slaves, learning secrets to bring to the Union. She retired to a farm in New York and it was called the Harriet Tubman Home for Indigent Aged Negroes. In 1898, she managed to secure a pension of $20 a month from the government for her years of service.
Jane Addams – 1860-1935 – With the recent closure of the Hull House in Chicago (2012), I thought it might be good to hear about the woman who started it in 1889. She attended the Rockford female Seminary in 1882 and then traveled to Europe. While in London, she visited settlement houses and realized what she needed to do once she returned to Chicago. She started Hull House in 1889 which provided health care, education, and jobs for immigrants and their families. She eventually owned more than 13 buildings and a summer retreat near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She continued to campaign for worker’s rights and children’s rights throughout her life. She even established a children’s court in 1899. Most people may not know this, but she helped form the ACLU – the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920.
Nellie Bly – 1865-1922 – One of the most recognized reporters in history AND she was a female. A journalist who wrote about working conditions, she started her career by responding to an article called “What Girls Are Good For” in 1885. She was hired by the newspaper and began to write about the slums and working girls in Pittsburg. Her articles were more poignant because she tried to place herself in their position. She was the first investigative reporter we know. She had herself committed to a mental institution so she could report on mental health care. Because of her articles, changes were made in how people saw mental health sufferers. Then she even had herself arrested so she could write about conditions in jail. She read Jules Vern’s book Around the World in 80 Days and decided she wanted to do what Phileas Fogg did. She traveled around the world, besting the main character’s feat by making the circuit in 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes.
Jeannette Rankin – 1880-1973 – She was the first female elected to Congress in 1917. She was a Republican from Montana, where women were allowed to vote. (remember women were not given the right to vote until the 19th amendment in 1920). Throughout her career, she fought for women’s suffrage as well as women’s and children’s rights. Unfortunately, she was keenly against war and when the US wanted to enter World War II, she voted against it. This got her voted out. In 1940 she was re-elected but when Pearl Harbor happened, she was the only delegate to vote against entry into the war. Once more she was not re-elected. She continued to lobby against the war. She protested over the years, even protesting against the US getting involved in the Viet Nam War.
Marian Anderson – 1902-1993 – She was an African American opera singer. She started singing in her Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Her distinguished voice had every range and she could sing – bass, alto, tenor, and soprano. In 1935 she won a chance to sing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, beating out over 300 other contestants. For years she toured Europe, where she was welcomed with open arms. When she returned the US, she wanted to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, but the DAR – the Daughters of the American Revolution refused. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR because of this, and made it possible for Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. In 1955 she sang with the Metropolitan Opera. She received the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1963, and in 1991, she was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy Association.
Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman – I want to talk about both of these brave women together because their lives paralleled each other.
Earhart – 1897-1937 – She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. She flew it alone. She was born in Kansas and flew in airshows for many years. She married George Putnam in 1931 who became her managed (and helped pay for many of her flights). She set the transatlantic record in 14 hours 56 minutes. She was also the first person to fly from Hawaii to California in 1935. She always wanted to fly across the Pacific Ocean. She attempted it in 1937 but her plane was lost over the ocean and she was never found.
Coleman – 1893-1929 – She was an African American woman who longed to fly but no one would let her into any aviation schools. She managed to travel to Europe where she learned French. She became the first African American woman pilot in history. She also worked in many airshows over the years. She lectured on flying across the country. Unfortunately she died in an air crash in Florida in 1926.
Eleanor Roosevelt – 1884-1962 – She was born into a wealthy family in New York but was orphaned when she was 10 years old. Her aunts and grandmother raised her, but she was also sent away to boarding schools in Europe. While in London she visited settlement houses and when she returned to New York she worked in many to learn about the plight of the workers. She married Franklin D. Roosevelt and they had six children together. When he contracted polio, she convinced him to run for political office any way. She made a point of visiting slums and dust bowl shacks during his presidency. She talked to the common person who suffered during the depression. She fought for women’s rights and even got her husband to appoint a female – Frances Perkins – as Secretary of Labor. One time she held a press conference for only women reporters. After FDR died, she was named as a delegate to the United Nations.
As you can see, all the women mentioned contribute in some way to the growth of our country. So, tell me who you think should be added here. Like I said before –there are far too many for me to mention, but that does not mean you cannot add them yourself.