March is Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. To mark the occasion, here are 15 women who made a difference through their inventions, intellect, activism, actions and more — along with a few who still are fighting the good fight.
She was born into slavery but escaped with her daughter in 1826. The African-American abolitionist and women’s rights campaigner gave a noteworthy extemporaneous speech “Ain’t I a woman?” in 1851, powerfully and simply speaking about the racism and sexism of her day.
She was a slave who escaped in 1849 and then went back to lead other slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. She became a speaker on the experiences of slavery and an advocate for the rights of African-Americans and black women.
Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Stanton was a U.S. activist and leading figure in the early women’s rights movement. She also was the main author of “Declaration of Sentiments” in 1848. Along with activist Susan B. Anthony, she founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. Anthony fought against slavery and for the promotion of women’s and workers rights. She began campaigning with the temperance movement and became convinced that women should have the vote. Her work helped pave the way for the 19th Amendment (1920), which finally gave women the right to vote. Mott was one of the leading voices of the abolitionist and feminist movements of her time. She helped form the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, and later was among the founders of the American women’s rights movement.
Born in Britain in 1821, Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. and was the first woman to be on the U.K. medical register. She helped to smash social barriers that prevented women doctors from being accepted.
Marie Sklodowska Curie
The Polish/French scientist was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize and the first person to win the Nobel in two categories. Her first award was for research into radioactivity, in 1903. Her second Nobel was for chemistry, in 1911. She also helped develop the first X-ray machines.
The U.S. crusader for the handicapped overcame the challenges of being blind and deaf to become one of the 20th century's leading humanitarians, activists and lecturers. She also co-founded the ACLU in 1920.
She was the first woman magistrate in the British Empire, and in 1927, she joined forces with four other Canadian women who sought to challenge a Canadian law that declared, “Women should not be counted as persons.”
The stunning actress starred with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracey and others on the silver screen in the 1930s and 1940s. She also was a scientist, helping to invent an early technique for spread spectrum communications, which led to the wireless communications we enjoy today.
The seamstress quietly but firmly refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus in 1955, and created a firestorm of activism that quickly spread. The leaders of the local black community organized a bus boycott that began the day Parks was convicted of violating segregation laws. Her action emboldened the civil rights movement.
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The Kenyan environmentalist began a movement to reforest her country and improve quality of life by paying poor women a small sum to plant trees. She went on to become the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004. The Nobel committee noted that she took a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraced democracy, human rights and women’s rights. During her life, more than 20 million trees were planted on farms, schools and church compounds through her Green Belt Movement.
Johnson has been extraordinary in many ways. The bright young woman was picked to be one of three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools and then went on to NASA, where she performed the calculations that sent astronauts into orbit in the early 1960s and to the moon in 1969. Johnson was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, and her career and accomplishments were featured in the movie “Hidden Figures.”
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A social activist, writer and lecturer, Steinem gained national attention in the 1960s as an outspoken leader of the women’s liberation movement. In 1971, she joined Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Betty Friedan to form the National Women’s Political Caucus, encouraging women’s participation in the 1972 election. She also co-founded Ms. magazine and continues to fight for women’s rights today.
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Chisholm was the first black congresswoman in U.S. history and served for seven terms. She ran for the 1972 Democratic nomination for the presidency, becoming the first major-party African-American candidate to do so. She also fought for education opportunities and social justice.
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The co-founder of what would become the United Farm Workers was one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century. Huerta today continues to work to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and to fight discrimination.
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The Pakistani activist was only a teenager when she began to speak out against the Taliban and its attacks on education for girls. She was shot in an assassination attempt at age 15. It only made her more determined. In 2014, Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their activism. Today the Malala Fund works to ensure girls receive an education.
Luiz Rampelotto / Pacific Press