March is Women’s History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the role women have made in the history of the United States. On a larger scale, International Women’s Day is observed on March 8 each year to celebrate women’s history and achievements as well as to raise awareness of women’s rights and the need for equality.
Women’s Day was first celebrated in the United States in 1909, organized by the Socialist Party of America and celebrated on Sunday so that working women could participate. The first International Women’s Day was observed just 2 years later. It wasn’t until 1987 that U.S. Congress proclaimed March Women’s History Month, to celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States.
Now, some skeptics might by thinking “why do we need an entire month, let alone a day devoted entirely to women’s history?” Why, indeed. We need it for the same reason we need Black History Month. Because throughout history, both groups have made numerous contributions to the well-being of this country, yet throughout history, it’s been largely white men who have been recognized.
Of course there are some women that are famous for their accomplishments in our country’s history. We’ve all heard of Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks. But how about those women who worked quietly behind the scenes as scientists, activists, peacemakers, inventors and news reporters? In my research, I came up with a long list, too long to share in a short article, so I wanted to share of few of the standouts you may not have heard of.
Mercy Otis Warren, (1728 – 1814): As a writer and propagandist of the American Revolution, Warren published poems and plays that attacked the British empire and urged colonists to resist Britain’s infringement on their rights.
Lucy Stone, 1818 – 1893: A pioneer in the movement for women’s rights, Stone lectured against slavery and advocated equality for women. She was famous for becoming the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree.
Elizabeth Blackwell, 1821 – 1910: The first woman physician in the U.S., (MD, Geneva College, 1849) Blackwell opened a slum infirmary and trained women in medicine.
Jessie Benton Fremont, 1924 – 1902: A writer and political activist, Fremont was considered the brains behind her husband, John C. Fremont, and his famous exploration westward. She turned his notes into readable books and made connections in Washington, D.C. that eventually made him famous.
Mary Walton, 1829 – 1906: This Manhattan inventor devised a method to reduce factory smoke emissions and reduced the track noise from elevated trains.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, 1837 – 1930: “Mother” Jones was present as a labor organizer and speaker at many significant labor struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Ellen Swallow Richards, 1842 – 1911: In 1870, Richards was the first woman to enroll in a technical institute (MIT). She founded the science of home economics and promoted science for women.
Jane Addams, 1860 – 1935: Noted for Hull House, an influential haven for disadvantaged people, Addams was active in a variety of causes. In 1931, she shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
Emily Greene Balch, 1867 – 1961: The 1947 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and founder the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Balch was an important woman advocate for peace during WWI and WWII.
Jeannette Rankin, 1880 – 1976: Jeannette Rankin was the first woman ever elected to Congress. She was one of few congressional members to vote no on WWI and WWII.
Marian Anderson, 1897 – 1993: As the first Black Metropolitan Opera star, Anderson used her rare voice to advance race relations. She served as an alternate U.N. delegate and was honored many times for all her accomplishments.
Esther Ross, 1904 – 1988: Ross devoted 50 years to winning federal recognition of the Stillaguamish Tribe in the Puget Sound area of Washington State.
Grace Hopper, 1906 – 1992: A Ph.D. from Yale (1934), Rear Adm. Hopper was one of the earliest computer programmers and a leader in software development concepts.
Virginia Apgar, 1909 – 1974: Dr. Apgar developed the Apgar Score, whose five items help physicians and nurses to determine if a newborn requires emergency care. The score is now standard worldwide.
Daisy Gatson Bates, 1914 – 1999: After segregation was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, Bates led the fight to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas schools from 1954-1957.
Marguerite Higgins, 1920 – 1966: Higgins was a reporter and war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. She advanced the cause of equal opportunity for female war correspondents and was the first woman awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Correspondence in 1951.
Marie Maynard Daly, 1921 – 2003: As the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry (Columbia University, 1948) Daly was the holder of various professorships. Focus: nucleic acids.
Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, 1921 – 2011: Yalow was the co-winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology and assisted in developing a technique to measure minute quantities of insulin in the blood.
Muriel F. Siebert, 1928 – 2013: Known as “the first woman of finance,” Siebert was the first woman to head a firm traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Carolyn Shoemaker, 1929 – 2021: Shoemaker was the holder of the record for the most comet discoveries (32) as well as more than 800 asteroids. She took up astronomy at the age of 51.
Barbara Jordan, 1936 – 1996: A lawyer, educator, politician, and civil rights movement leader, Jordan was the first southern African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first African-American woman to give a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
Marian Wright Edelman, 1939 – : Founder and president of Children’s Defense Fund, Edelman was originally a 1960s civil rights activist. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
As you can see, it was difficult for me to narrow down this list of accomplished women. And this is just a fraction of women with little known names and outstanding accomplishments here in the United States. Forgive me if I left off a few of your favorites, and be sure to share your own list as we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. And to all the women worldwide who are creating peace and improving lives, i am deeply grateful.